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The Slave Narrative

The Slave Narrative, a peculiar genre of American literature produced by the ôpeculiarö institution of slavery, is usually an autobiographical account by a former slave, recounting the horrors and indignities of chattel slavery in the United States. The most famous of the Slave Narratives, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845; rev. 1882) drew champions from the Abolitionists in the North, years before the outbreak of the Civil War, because it was masculine, militant, and political. Douglass addressed a national audience on the crucial issue at a historic tide in American history. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs enjoyed no such political support, and for a long time languished under the shadow of Frederick Douglass and the enormously popular anti-slavery novel, Uncle TomÆs Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1952). The problem: why is Harriet JacobsÆ memoir especially compelling and significant? Critical analysis shows that the strength of JacobsÆ work lies in its depiction of slavery from a slave girlÆs point of view, an emotional retelling of sexual exploitation and family fragmentation that appealed directly to Northern women and jostled their consciences as few other memoirs could. The central themes combine the utter vulnerability of a slave girl about the time of the Underground Railroad and the Fugitive Slave Act.

As a number of critics have underscored, Northern women were the prime consumers of fiction throughout much of the 19th century, and their chief literary diet consisted of homegrown and British melodramas made from much the same raw stuff, those endless melodramatic novels in which feminine virtue attempts to hold aggressive male sexuality at bay. JacobsÆ story may have knocked them off their perches. If they could not readily identify with a young woman with black skin, they could identify with her plight and her special vulnerability simply because she w...

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The Slave Narrative. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:07, March 26, 2019, from