The Narrative of Sojourner Truth is a story of a renowned public speaker, abolitionist, feminist, and itinerant preacher who spoke against slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and against the feminist movement that excluded African American women. In the book, Sojourner told a story of her life not only as a slave but also as a woman who had to continually prove herself to the society that diminished women’s role and regarded them as irrelevant to making decisions about societal issues.
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This analysis will address Sojourner’s story and assess it in the context of American history as well as in association with personal experiences of an African-American woman whose heritage and race limited her place in the society. Despite belonging to a different era than the one of contemporary audiences, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth resonates with its readers since it imparts meaning into the continuous struggle of a woman who managed to shake off the shackles of slavery and rise to support and even lead the fight against slavery and social injustice by exploring the foundation thereof, i.e., the nature of the “robbery and wrong” (Gilbert 98) that dominated social relationships at the time, and encouraging the ideas of brotherhood as the basis for the relationships between people in the future.
Who Sojourner Truth Was
According to her story, Sojourner lived in several places throughout her life. Born in Swartekill, NY, she was sold at an auction and was forced to move to Kingston with her new slave-owner John Neely. Later, she also lived in Port Ewen and West Park with different “masters” who bought her. After being married to Thomas, her fellow slave, and having children, Sojourner was promised by her slaveholder to get freedom according to the emancipation decree released in the State of New York. However, Sojourner continued to live with her master until the closure of fall’s work (despite being eligible to freedom from July 4, 1827) (Gilbert 39).
After her escape from slavery and the illegal sale of her son, Truth met a man who sympathized with her and advised to go to the Quakers who could assist her in the legal battle for her son. During the trial, Sojourner visited Poppletown and later moved to New York City with her son Peter.
Summary of Events
The actual date of Sojourner’s birth is unknown; it is assumed, though, that she was born between 1797 and 1800. The lack of information about her origins was not uncommon for African American people at the era of slavery, and the specified blank space in the story of Sojourner’s life represents a sad commentary on the inhumane conditions in which African American people were forced to live at the time.
Born Isabella Bomefree, she was instantly branded as the legal property of Colonel Ardinburgh and, later on, his son, Charles Ardinburgh. Sojourner’s father, James, was described as “proverbially faithful” (Gilbert 19) to both his family and master, whereas her mother Elizabeth, or Mau-Mau Bett, as Sojourner called her, was an embodiment of self-sacrifice and support. Sojourner also has numerous brothers and sisters. Her description of the cherished memories and the way in which her siblings were brutally torn away from the family are truly shocking, the children being “separated for ever from those whom God had constituted his natural guardians and protectors” (Gilbert 16).
When considering the abhorrent things that happened to Sojourner, one can only wonder how she could remain strong and resilient throughout her journey; however, one may assume that in no small part was Sojourner’s spiritual power rooted in the religious upbringing that she received as a child. From the simplistic concept of Heaven and God that her mother explained to her when Sojourner was a child (“He lives in the sky” (Gilbert 17)) to the further complex interpretation of the Divine power, Sojourner always had a special place in her heart for religion, as Gilbert explains:
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Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other. (Gilbert 18)
Therefore, faith remained a powerful source of inspiration and strength for Sojourner throughout her quest for freedom and social justice. Moreover, it was faith that prompted the development of Sojourner’s idea of justice and encouraged her to fight for the freedom of African Americans and the emancipation of women: “She always asked with an unwavering faith that she should receive just what she pleaded for” (Gilbert 27). However, it would be erroneous to presume that the naiveté of her convictions only worked in her favor. Quite on the contrary, as Sojourner faced injustice and violence, she learned to view faith as the resource for fighting against oppression as opposed to taking it submissively:
The slaveholders are terrible for promising to give you this or that, or such and such a privilege, if you will do thus and so; and when the time of fulfilment comes, and one claims the promise, they, forsooth, recollect nothing of the kind: and you are, like as not, taunted with being a liar; or, at best, the slave is accused of not having performed his part or condition of the contract. (Gilbert 40)
After seeing the unfortunate end of her parents, Isabella was sold to John Nealy of Ulster County when she was nine. She lived with Nealy for seven months, and was sold to a fisherman named Scriver; Isabella saw him as her savior from the terrible life with the Nealys. After living at the fisherman’s farm for one and a half years, she was sold to John J. Dumont, with whom she stayed until the emancipation in 1828. Isabella was subsequently forced to marry her fellow slave Thomas despite having feelings to Robert, who was prohibited by his master to marry a slave of another owner. In the course of her life, Isabella was a mother to five children.
Soon she was sold to Mr. Van Wagener, who was one of the few white people that treated Sojourner with respect; in fact, he never saw her as a slave: “Mr. Van Wagener tell her not to call him master – adding, ‘there is but one master; and he who is your master is my master” (Gilbert 43). Her five-year-old son was sold to Dr. Gedney who took the boy to New York City; however, the boy was unfit for the desired service and thus was sent back to the Doctor’s brother, Solomon, who gave the boy to a wealthy slave-owner Fowler from Alabama. Despite the very little power that she had as a slave, Sojourner went against all the odds and testified before the Grand Jury.
The devastating experiences that she had to face made sojourner reconsider her religious beliefs, and she soon became a member of the Methodist Church. She settled in New York, yet after thorough meditations, she decided to leave the city: “The Spirit calls me there, and I must go” (Gilbert 100). Her pilgrimage to enlighten others about the Christian religion and the importance of equality; Sojourner wanted to bring the divided Christian community together: “Of that I only know as I saw. I did not see him to be God; else, how could he stand between me and God?” (Gilbert 69).
Later on, she met Mr. Pierson, who gave her work as a housekeeper. However, the seemingly peaceful period of her life ended with another controversy as Robert Matthias, with whom she collaborated, was accused of murdering Mr. Pierson. “The sudden, melancholy and somewhat suspicious death of Mr. Pierson, and the arrest of Matthias on the charge of his murder, ending in a verdict of not guilty” (Gilbert 95), however, left a mark on Sojourner’s life.
The meeting at Windsor Lock made Sojourner’s task of raising awareness among Americans even more challenging. She was invited to many houses in a number of cities, which was admittedly excruciating. Nevertheless, Sojourner faced her duties with due diligence: “Besides, if the Lord comes and burns – as you say he will – I am not going away; I am going to stay here and stand the fire” (Gilbert 112).
The biography never tells about Sojourner’s death, which is rather symbolic. With the huge contribution that she made to the abolitionist and feminist movement, her legacy has retained its power. Sojourner’s efforts in promoting peace and equality will always be remembered.
Achievements, Triumphs, and Tragedies
When considering Sojourner’s key achievements, one must mention her incredible success in going on trial to defend her son. Her strength helped her rise against the mockery and lack of trust among the Grand Jury. The very idea of an African American woman to file a case against a white man was absurd at the time, yet Sojourner’s incredible courage, persistence, and willingness to fight for her rights, as well as the rights of the oppressed African Americans, in general, contributed to her achieving the impossible and winning the case. The court sentence, which stated that “the boy be delivered into the hands of the mother – having no other master, no other controller, no other conductor, but his mother” (Gilbert 53) was unprecedented for America at the time (Gilbert 53).
Role of Sojourner’s Story in American History and Shaping Events
The impact that Sojourner’s efforts have had on the further history of America and the progress of social relationships can hardly be underrated. Sojourner contributed to the further promotion of the concept of equality as the foundation for relationships between people of all races and ethnicities. Sojourner’s experience helped reconsider the very essence of slavery as a phenomenon, outlining that, no matter how kind and understanding the masters of slaves might be described, the latter remain reduced to being subservient to and owned by the former.
Furthermore, one must admit that Sojourner added a significant amount of spirituality to the process of fighting for the rights of vulnerable populations, i.e., African Americans and, after on, African American women. Her impact includes the famous speech at the Northampton meeting. Being stopped by a gang of violent young people, she started singing an inspirational hymn that ultimately helped change the minds of the attackers (Gilbert 115).
Thus, what seemed to start out as a fight finally resulted in a peaceful conversation and the conversion of the attackers into her followers and devoted supporters, who finally claimed that “no one should be allowed to hurt her” (Gilbert 117).
Personal Assessments and Views: Truth’s Significance and Critical Thoughts
Initially, Truth’s Narrative did not portray her as a strong individual who could have contributed to the history of the nation and whose views could have been significant. However, building on her personal experiences, Sojourner became a highly educated and just woman who understood that her race or heritage could not prevent her from achieving something positive in life. At that time, being an advocate for the rights of African Americans, in general, and Black women, in particular, was extremely challenging and even dangerous; however, being a Black woman-advocate was even more complicated.
Sojourner Truth was a remarkable woman who made a significant contribution to African-American history, laying the foundation for the future emancipation of slaves. She was a mother of five children and still managed to work and bring benefit to others around her; her Narrative is a valuable piece of literary work that allowed contemporary readers to get to know Sojourner as an individual.
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Undoubtedly, the narrative emphasized slavery as a crucial aspect of the American society of that time. Sojourner Truth told a lot about her relationships with her masters, other slaves, as well as people involved in her religious activities. To conclude the assessment, it is essential to state that the Narrative of Sojourner Truth is an eye-opening book that shed light on the most interesting and at the same time heartbreaking aspects of slavery as a part of American history. For African-American women, Sojourner’s story is close to heart: not only did she struggle to get away from the limits that slavery imposed on her but she also had to prove her power as a woman and a legitimate member of the society.
Gilbert, Olive. Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828. Yerrinton and Son, 1850.