Sunday, November 24, 2019

Life of a Slave Girl Essay Example

Life of a Slave Girl Essay Example Life of a Slave Girl Essay Life of a Slave Girl Essay Once again we are transported to a time and place that seems so unreal, so utterly hard, that it takes someone who has been there to accurately portray the sights and sounds in a way that allows us to believe it is real. In her book Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs describes her life as a slave in South Carolina in the early to mid 1800s. Her account is similar in nature to other slave narratives at the time, but has a different tone to her descriptions of life and death during her time in bondage. Unlike others that tell of extreme punishment and hard labor, Jacobs narrative explores the emotional hardships laid upon her by her master, a man by the name of James Norcom. Norcom is attracted to Jacobs and is constantly battering her with lewd innuendos and moral degradation. He very much wants Jacobs to submit to him, and her struggle against his actions becomes one of Jacobs means of strength and defiance. Another means of strength for Jacobs is her grandmother Molly Horniblow. This woman, who is a freed slave, wants nothing more than to see whats left of her family free to live a life in which they deserve as human beings. Unfortunately she has no right to tell a white slave owner what to do, but throughout the book, she makes her feelings known to Mr. Norcom. When Jacobs becomes pregnant by a white lawyer, Mrs. Horniblow is very disappointed at her granddaughter, but is not privy to the amount of abuse she is receiving from Norcom. Jacobs eventually has two children, and due to the laws of slaves in place, they too become property of the young daughter of Dr. Norcom who is the legal master of Jacobs. Harriet does not want her children to live their life under the fist of another and concocts a plan in which to free her children of bondage as well as herself. To be brief, Jacobs escapes from her masters home one night and over the course of many years, hides out in various locations throughout the town until the time is right to escape for good to the north. By this time both of her children have been purchased by their father, the lawyer, and are currently living in the free states to the north. Jacobs chance to escape finally comes and she is taken by ship first to Philadelphia and then to New York by way of a train. Jacobs takes a job as a nanny of sorts with a family that is sympathetic to her plight as a runaway slave. Family members from her previous master regularly travel to New York in an attempt to track her down and Mrs. Bruce as she is called in the book takes steps in order for her to remain hidden from those looking to return Jacobs to her previous life in bondage. Finally, to put this searching to an end, Mrs. Bruce offers to purchase Jacobs from her master but Jacobs refuses to have someone pay money for her. It would only reinforce her feelings of being viewed as property. Without her knowing Mrs. Bruce, employed a gentleman in New York to enter into negotiations with Mr. Dodge. At first Mr. Dodge didnt take the offer, but finally he concluded that half a loaf was better than no bread and he agreed to the proffered terms (Jacobs, 199). So Jacobs was now officially free, but still felt uneasy about having to be purchased. I had objected to having my freedom bought, yet I must confess that when it was done I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my weary shoulders (Jacobs, 200). Through all of the narrative, Jacobs searched for freedom and at last she had obtained it. Unfortunately blacks were still not given many of the freedoms as others and in closing there is a sense that she is not completely over her ordeal of so many years of hardship. It is interesting to note that in her book, Jacobs refers to each individual by a different name than was fact. She refers to herself as Linda Brent, grandmother as Aunt Martha as well as her children Joseph and Louisa as Benny and Ellen respectively. This use of pseudonyms is an interesting facet of Jacobss narrative. Why would she not want to reveal the names of people that had made her life so miserable? She states in the preface that she had no motive for secrecy, but felt compelled to do so anyway. It is as if she had a greater purpose of writing her story than to merely point fingers. One might say that some of the characters in her book are blank spaces to be filled in by many other slaves who experienced a similar fate only by different individuals. In this way Jacobs is trying to tell a story not just of her life, but of the lives of so many that came before her and those who were still bound in shackles. Harriet Jacobs life in slavery can be described as trying. The descriptions she gives of the life she lived makes it hard to imagine how one group of people could sleep at night knowing of the distress and hardship they were placing upon another group of individuals. What is interesting about Jacobs account is the perspective in which she brings to the issue of treatment of slaves at the time. Even though she was not subject to the normal punishment we most often relate to slaves in the south; hard labor, whippings, etc, she tells of another more emotional torment that was placed upon her by the same inhuman system. Jacobs repeatedly describes the harassment she receives from Dr. Norcom. He is constantly trying to get her to submit to his sexual desires. At this time in the south, it was very common for slave owners to impregnate their property as they are commonly referred to. This practice not only fulfilled the masters sexual desires, but it also brought him more wealth from the increase in his slave population. Due to the harsh nature of the demands placed on slaves, replenishing the amount of slaves he had on hand was vitally important. Increasing the amount of slaves one owned was easier to due by just sleeping with female slaves than purchasing more. If the child lived long enough to reach a certain age, they could be sent into the fields to work, or could be sold to repay debts. And even though the father was a free man, the children took the legal status of the mother and so also became property of the father. In Jacobss case, the father of her children was inclined to see that the young ones not be subject to the slavery system. He ultimately sent them to the north and tried to purchase Jacobs as well. It was a rare situation in which the father had nothing financially to benefit from his actions, but was simply doing what others refused to do. And that was treating fellow human beings as human beings. Jacobs tale of toil and hardship makes one thankful for the freedom that we so often take for granted. Her story speaks of the good and bad of human nature and forces us to think about the times in our countys past that most would like to forget. It also tells of the spirit to live and to be free when it seems as if every step you take might be your last. The fight of good vs. evil is something that might never go away and Jacobs narrative is only one slice of a struggle that has been around since the dawn of man, yet it reminds us not to forget those that have struggled for ideals that seem so common place in todays world.

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