Thursday, March 4, 2010

Slave Girl

What a sad, awful, depressing time to be a member of the Fox News dubbed: "White America." I feel a lot of what our good old buddy Nate Hawthorne must of felt after seeing what a few generations earlier had done to innocent, free people. A lot of present day folks are willing to ignore, forget and even overlook the events of the late 1700s and 1800s in America, you know, when slavery was legal. Unbelievable. So there's the guilt in that, but then we pick up Harriet Jacob's book and boom. Look at what an American, who is TOLD SHE IS LESS THAN A NORMAL AMERICAN, does with and to get her hands on a piece of American freedom.

This book is a survival story and a tale of epic scale American freedom. I can see pretty easily how it fits in with the rest of the course: Harriet is a woman, put down by men and bigots, and must emancipate herself from detestable conditions and try to scrape together some sense of self in a big bad world.

Sounds like the original colonists escaping from England. It's too bad we didn't figure out we would do the same thing again (and no, I haven't forgotten the Indians.)

What I find fascinating, is that today "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," along with other texts of the era (Like Fredrick Douglass' "Narrative") have sense innovated their own genre and place in literary history. Unbeknownst to her, Harriet Jacob's created a subtheme in the greater scale of American Literature: African American Lit.

The most important collection of this text is without a doubt the Norton academic anthology. Said of this collection: "Andrews added that English and literature departments where faculty have not taught African American literature can no longer make the claim that no adequate anthologies exist." The question I pose is, why has there for so long been an excuse to teach this literature?

As if to answer my question, Roach's article continues: ""It took twice as long as we thought it would," McKay said. "It was exhilarating at times. But, on the other hand, it could be depressing."" And it is, we should be examining authors like Jacobs, not hiding them.

SO this thought prompted more research into African American lit, and I found a whole new version of the American story in an interesting text pitting a Haitian refuge intellectual and a Harlem working class man and war deserter. Together, their dialague creates a sort of independt study on what it means to be a man in Jacobs' version of America, more then the diluted and upper class White America we are most often faced with.

"Nonetheless, the friendship that evolves between Ray and Jake transforms both of them, as they each must confront the mutual prejudice--based on national and class differences--that makes their comradeship so unlikely."

This unlikely friendship is something more like what an honest, loving country (like America) would have meet Harriet in New York, instead of what she did...

She says:

"Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own."

She is independent, cannot stress enough how American this is....

"Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage. I and my children are now free! We are as free from the power of slave holders as are the white people of the north; and though that, according to my ideas, is not saying a great deal, it is a vast improvement in my condition."

Without touching on the gender freedom lodged in this quotation, I just pity the world that would force a woman to define freedom with the bigoted world Jacob's lived in.


Lowney, J. "Haiti and Black Transnationalism: Remapping the Migrant Geography of Home to Harlem" African American Review, Fall, 2000.

Roach, R. "Powerful pages: Unprecedented Public Impact of W.W. Norton and Co's Norton Anthology of African American Literature". Black Issues in Higher Education, September 18, 1997.

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