Slavery from the Perspective of Women
Harriet Stowe, the groundbreaking author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, was quoted saying: “the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves” (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center 1). On another occasion, she said the following line: “I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is” (Harriet Beecher Stowe Center 1).
In these two instances, it was made clear that as a writer, Stowe drew inspiration from her deep religious upbringing. At that time it was never seen as melodramatic or sentimental. In fact, insights gleaned from the Bible gave her acceptable and effective counterarguments to the prevailing idea that it was practically impossible to give up slavery (Stowe 1). People knew it was wrong to own slaves, but they did not have a way to defeat the idea from a business point of view.
Harriet Jacobs’ book entitled “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” tells one of the perverted cases of sexual harassment in human history. In modern times male employers are compelled by law to treat female employees with utmost respect. Nonetheless, cases of sexual harassment continually grab headlines all over the world. It is hard to imagine the psychological and emotional agony that young slave girls had to go through every single day when the nation’s justice system favored the slave owners. Consider the impact of Jacobs’ words: “When she is fourteen or fifteen, her owner, or his sons, or 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” (79). This incident alone justifies the abolition of slavery.
Slavery Narratives: Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglas wanted to shoot down several pro-slavery arguments. For example he detested the idea that Negro slaves did not have the moral and intellectual capacity for self-governance. He also detested the argument that Negro slaves are of the same value as beasts of burden or cattle. He hinted at these arguments when he described the life experiences of two slaves and a slave master called Colonel Lloyd. Consider for instance the deeper meaning of the following passages: “Its excellent fruit was quite a temptation to the hungry swarms of boys, as well as the older slaves, few of whom had the virtue or the vice to resist it” (Douglas 14).
With regards to how the slave owners treated slaves and animals, he wrote: “Everything depended upon the looks of the horses and the state of Colonel Lloyd’s own mind when his horses were brought to him for use” (Douglas 14). One can argue that the narratives were fashioned as a way to disprove the pro-slavery arguments mentioned earlier.
Key passages revealed recurrent thematic elements in Douglas’ narrative. These key passages explained the invisible force that compelled slave masters to behave like monsters as they dispense cruel punishments on black slaves. Consider the impact of the following line, after a slave master murdered a slave in cold blood as a form of punishment for running away: “He was setting a dangerous example to the other slaves; if suffered to pass without some such demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the total subversion of all rule and order upon the plantation” (Douglas 20). In other words, slavery as an institution created monsters out of slave masters.
Reflection on the Course
Reading the narratives presented by Stowe, Jacobs, and Douglas served as a critical reminder of the evil institution called slavery. It is a good thing to be reminded of the social injustice and extreme poverty created by the said institution in order to make ensure its perpetual extinction in democratic societies. It is sometimes hard to believe that immortal souls are able to ignore the implications of universal laws of respect and human decency for the sake of economic gain.
Douglas, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. Xist Publishing, 2015.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 2016. Web.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Oxford University Press, 1990.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Edcon Publishing Group, 2012.