Throughout the history of world there have been many documented cases of oppression and violence that one country or one race has forces upon another. Although the notion of slavery is thought to be gone from today’s world, there are still numerous countries that force individuals to work against their will for little or no rewards. A massive area to studying and view slavery took place in the United States from the early seventieth century up to the American civil war, which ended slavery, in the middle nineteenth century. The driving force behind slavery was the demand for cheap labour, and the slave owners and slave traders were determined to obtain it. The exploitation of their slaves, which were to be from Africa, was a huge business throughout North America. The business that was so profitable for the slave owners and slave traders played havoc for the slaves from Africa as families were divided and relationships were broken. After slavery was abolished it was not easily forgotten and the discrimination of the black population would stop in some areas of the United States. The hate and anger from oppressing white minority would continue and would expand into different areas and social groups well to present day. With information taken from Harriet Jacobs’s <i>Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl </i>And a narrative <i>Memories of Childhood’s Slavery Days </i>Written by Annie L. Burton this paper will examine the life styles and views that slaves possessed during slavery and what life was like for them after gaining their freedom.
The literature that was covered, in both the novel and narrative, gave great insight to the situation that slaves were faced with. To a further extent the material provided not only a slave’s view but both pieces of material were from a woman’s perspective. The following critique will deal with the two pieces of literature and examine the content of both.
The work by Jacobs details the life a young black girl who in the early stages of her life, although being a slave, was not subjected to the cruel treatment from her owner as so many other slaves would be. Her compassion for her owner is a rarity, as for most slaves the relationship with their master’s is one of complete obedience while harboring anger within them. The following illustrates the feelings that Linda, the young slave girl, had for her mistress “As I saw the cheek grow paler, and the eye more glassy, how earnestly I prayed that she might live! I loved her; for she had been like a mother to me.” Linda’s life would change dramatically after the death of her mistress; her life now would no longer be as joyful and happy as she was to be traded to another slave owner.
For Burton who is writing about herself, named Annie in the narrative, her childhood is placed in a time of change as it is during the civil war. Burton’s description of her surroundings, to a certain extent, seems to be of confusion with both black and white races having difficulty coming to grips with the new world that they live in. The old way of life in the south is no longer the norm and the future can no longer be predicted as it was before. For Burton her future seems to be filled with opportunity and becoming a figure of success for she no longer had the oppression of slavery to deal with, or so she believed to be the case.
Throughout Jacobs’s work her main character Linda is constantly dealing with challenges and horrible treatment from her master. His despicable treatment of her is heightened as Linda matures and becomes a young woman. It would be her darkest period of her life and would continue for the rest of her time on the plantation. Jacobs’s message is clearly understood with
No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere of licentiousness and fear. The lash and foul talk of her master and his sons are her teachers. When she is fourteen of fifteen, her owner, or his sons, of the overseer, or perhaps all of them, begin to bribe her with presents. If these fail to accomplish their purpose, she is whipped or starved into submission to their will. She may have religious principles inculcated by some pious mother or grandmother, or some good mistress; she may have a lover, whose good opinion and peace of mind are dear to her heart; or the profligate men who have power over her may be exceedingly odious to her. But resistance is hopeless.
For Linda there is little to nothing that she can do to prevent this treatment, although she receives comforting words from loved ones around her there is nothing that they can do to keep Linda out of harms way; she must take this burden on alone. Jacobs’s description is compelling to the reader and leaves the notion of just how appalling the situation was for a young slave girl.
For Burton her young life was mostly filled with aiding her family and listening to her mother’s words of advice on how to live in the new world. For Burton, although she did receive punishment on the plantation, her life as a youth would be considered much better than most. As she matured into a young woman she did not receive the abuses from her master as now she and the rest of the slaves were free. Burton does however relay the message that while she was on the plantation women slaves were still given awful treatment “If no children were born within a year or so, the wife was sold. Burton’s years of a young woman also involved her meeting her first love and the struggles that consisted with trying to be with him. While in the end they did end being together and getting married, all would come apart with his death early into their marriage. With his death Burton had much to ponder about what her next action should be, she knew that her family still needed her aid and thus she went north, as she was now inclined to do so, for work and money.
Coming back to Jacobs’s work the next section of the book illustrates to the reader just the type of perseverance mentality that Jacobs’s, or in the book Linda, possessed. Being pushed and driven into a corner by her master Jacobs is left with some distressing choices on what she is to do. She now has two young children, neither of which were her master’s and this enraged to a further extent. Jacobs knows though that she will not last on the plantation and thus she begins to investigate methods for her escape. It is in this section that Jacobs character is brought forth and the reader is shown just how determined and hateful Jacobs was towards her master. Having attempted escaped several times without success, Jacobs goes into hiding and she will stay in hiding for seven years, most of which will be in a small cramped corner of her grandmother’s house. The conditions of this hideaway were horrendous and Jacobs is faced with the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, the space to only lie on her back and constant darkness. After seven years lying on her back Jacobs is finally given an opportunity to escape and although she feels betrayal for leaving her children she knows that she must. This time she is successful and makes it to the north and to Philadelphia harbour with the aid of both black and white races.
In both pieces of work the endings detail the lives of both women broken away from their original bondage of slavery and in charge of their own lives. For Jacobs the journey has been a long and she has finally broken away from her connections to the south and is able to know that her children will have the opportunity to live in an improved era. For Burton she is working at educating herself and obtaining the knowledge that she would need to prosper in the north. Her stay in school would be cut short due to illness but for Burton the amount of time that she did gain would allow her to do more than she had ever thought possible. Although life is not easy for either of these women both know, especially Jacobs, just how fortunate they are to be out of the south and free from slavery.
The lives of each of the slave characters can be investigated even further and similarities and differences can be associated with each individual. The following will begin look deeper into each girls struggle, the majority will come from Harriet Jacobs as her situation was to a higher degree of suffrage on the plantation and after her escape. The paper will also look at what the end of slavery did the black population in the south and also what it did the white population and emphasize on the slave owners themselves.
With the end of slavery in the south and former slaves being able to leave the plantations as they pleased gave the slave owners much distress as now they their world had unfolded all around them. Many slave owners felt that they were helping the slaves by allowing them to stay on their plantations and look after them. Some of the owners felt that the slaves would not be able to survive on their own and that they had always treated their slaves with kindness and care. In Burton’s work just this view is shown
O my God, what shall we do? “I presume,” he said, “we shall have to put our boys to work and hire help.” “But”, she said, “what will the niggers do if they are free, Why, they will starve if we don’t keep them.” “Oh, well.” he said, “let the wander, if they will not stay with their owners. I don’t doubt that many owners have been good to their slaves, and they would rather remain with their owners than wander about without home or country.”
Many slave owners being raised by their father’s, who would have been slave owners, felt that this method of living was the only way to live. Even taking to a religious peak, some slave owners felt that it was the white mans responsibility to keep the black minority underneath him and felt that this was helping them. By providing shelter and food, the slave owners held the message that they were to care for the black slaves and this method of control was the appropriate way to do so.
For slave women who were to grow up on a plantation their main purpose was to produce more slaves for their owners. Jacobs depicts this with “Women are considered of no value, unless the continually increase their owner’s stock.”<a href="#_ftn5" name="_ftnref5" title=""></a> Being a women slave put you at the lowest pecking order on the plantation. Women lived in constant fear from all those who had authority over her, which on the plantation would have been the majority except for children and other slave men who were helpless to defend their women from their owner’s attacks. These slave women had great determination and spirit among them and in the case of Jacobs her will is presented in the following
I had my secret hopes; but I must fight my battle alone. I had a woman’s pride, and a mother’s love for my children; and I resolved that out of the darkness of this hour a brighter dawn should rise for them. My master had power and law on his side; I had a determined will. There is might in each.
There were times in the life of Jacobs and for other slave women that wished for death to take them out of their surroundings. That only through death would they be free from the master’s control and they could be rid of the abusive both physically and mentally. There are many references to death in Jacobs’s work and how she prayed for God to take her out his place. She is felt this “I suffered in consequence of this treatment; but I begged my friends to let me die, rather than send for the doctor. There was nothing I dreaded so much as his presence. My life was spared; and I was for the sake of my little ones. Had it not been for these ties to life, I should have been glad to be released by death.
Some women such as Jacobs would have rather paid the ultimate sacrifice and given up their lives than to stay on their plantation. The conditions under slavery were at the utmost of degradation and for some women there was no relief except for death. After slavery was over many women found relief in coming together, from Jacobs view “There are no bonds so strong as which are formed by suffering together. These women would come to depend on one another for they knew that these women were ones that could be trusted and helpful in times of need.
For the slave women the belief that once slavery was over they would be able to begin to live their lives free from oppression and be able to thrive was held by the majority of them. This would not be case however, even in the places such as the northern states that all the southern slave women had heard so much about. There was no guarantee for them that they could go anywhere in the United States and prosper. For many slave women such as Jacobs and Burton their lives were consisted of constant movement is search of new and better jobs. For Jacobs the feeling of being truly free was hard to believe even as she escaped from her horrible south past and made it to the north. Her message is obtained through “What a disgrace to a city calling itself free, that inhabitants guiltless of offence, and seeking to perform their duties conscientiously, should be condemned to live in such incessant fear, and have nowhere to turn for protection!. These former slave women were still faced with oppression, all be it to a smaller degree, and still very subjected to the white race influence even in the northern states. For slavery had been such a massive part of the southern states and throughout the United States it was not easily erased from still attaining influence after it was over.
This history of the United States is filled with much success and violence in its formation. For the slaves that were unfortunate enough to have been placed onto the plantations and felt the abuse from the slave owners there is little that can to compensate for their treatment. Through their awful treatment they still survived and became rich in culture and found strength one another. Their misfortune will give guidance to the black and white races of today and will never allow for such an act of cruelty to take place in the United States. The movement now should be to abolish all types of slavery throughout the world and with the messages that were conveyed through Harriet Jacobs and Annie L. Burton hopefully soon all countries will realize their messages and put a halt to the mistreatment and oppression being forced upon other minorities.