Slave Narrative Essay

Slave Narrative Essay

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The purpose of a slave narrative during the American abolition movement was to directly address the violent truth of slavery. But to what effect did the truth of their autobiographical stories have on readers at the time? Within this essay, I am going to explore themes such as truth, motherhood and religion, and how they interact as narrative strategies throughout. In order to support the analyses, my primary authors will be William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs 1.
The primary texts stated are written in a voice which is antebellum of the American Civil War (1861-65), so it is interesting to see the that the two male authors use their own identity to title their work despite the risks involved, unlike Jacobs who uses pseudonyms to portray her story. Throughout all three texts, there is a familiar structure. Olney comments on how this is 'a sense not of uniqueness but of overwhelming sameness' 2. He continues to state how slave narratives follow a 'chronological, episodic narrative beginning with an assertion of existence' 3. This can be seen in my primary texts, for example, 'I was born in Tuckahoe' (Douglass, Narrative, p.2072) and 'I was born a slave' (Jacobs, Incidents, p.1809). On the other hand, Heermance disagrees, stating that the 'specifically personal, […] unique and exotic, nature [...] made each narrative intriguingly different from its brethren' 4. This quote supports the individuality of each slave, and their reactions and representations of the different forms of violence they were subjected to. However, Andrews justifies the similarity of structures within slave narratives; 'The ex-slave narrators and their sponsors had learned that [...] facts plotted in certain kinds of story structures...


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... this analyse of strategies to a close, I believe that the theme of religion creates a greater impact in narratives. This because even without being religious, the scripture is known, thus quotations are relatable. Not only this, the narrators themselves were a huge part of the abolition movement, especially Douglass who wrote and delivered many speeches; 'Morality and religion were one and the same thing for Frederick Douglass, and it should come as no surprise that [...] (Matthew 7:12) would become the perfect embodiment of human equality for him' 15. This concludes how religion within narratives, exposed slave owners' misconception of scripture, and their unholy violence based on those wrong interpretations. The narratives tactfully show the true and fair intentions intended by God for all of humanity, and no doubt this helped the abolition movement dramatically.

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