Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl resonated with me in the same way that Fredrick Douglass did. From the two experts, I gained a better understanding of slavery and while they both lived through the brutal conditions of slavery, the experience they had was different. Jacob’s excerpt adds the perspective of life as a female slave, while Douglass’ offers the perspective of a male slave. Women who were slaves were treated much worse than men. While they both experienced mental and physical abuse, women were typically sexually abused by their masters. Harriet’s novel adds to what we learned from Fredrick Douglass about slavery in a few different ways, one being that even when residing in a “free’ state, a slave in not free at all. At the end of her story in chapter 41, she says “My brain reeled as I read these lines. A gentleman near me said, “It’s true; I have seen the bill of sale.” “The bill of sale!” Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold in the free city of New York!” If she ever was really “free” in every sense of the word, she wouldn’t have had to have been bought in order to be granted freedom. Douglass focused on the physical suffering that slaves experienced, while Jacob’s seemed to be more rooted in the emotional trauma being a slave, especially while being a women as well. Jacob’s went deeper to explain the terrible conditions and trauma she faced while trying to escape. She spent seven years of her life in hiding and even after leaving, the effects of that stuck with her. The conditions she faced were so bad that she was willing to spend almost a decade in hiding just to stay safe from her master. Even after everything she went through and the decisions she made, her freedom was never guaranteed.
Despite the abolishment of slavery in 1865, there are still modern forms of slavery that exist, despite them being different from the historical definition of what slavery is. One of the main forms of modern slavery is forced labour, in which people are forced to work through the use violence or intimidation. Debt bondage (also known as bonded labour) is another form of contemporary labor that so many people can resonate with, especially us as college students. Debt bondage is when people borrow money that they can’t pay back and because of this, they lose control over both their employment and the debt. Another obvious form is forced marriage. While forced marriage isn’t as prevalent in the United States as it is in other country, it is an ongoing issue in a lot of other countries.
1- In addition to what Fredrick Douglass has provided to his readers about Slavery from his position as a slave. Harriet Jacobs “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” also speaks out in her essays about Slavery and how she and the other female slaves were treated with cruelty and how they were able to continue living with all the sufferings around them. Harriet Jacobs started her writing slightly different from Frederick Douglass did, she described how happy she was as a kid having her educated and skilled parents beside her. After a few years, things changed and went downhill after her mother’s death. She faced her biggest fear and probably every female slave fear which is to be sexually abused by her master. Like any other slave, Jacobs was looking forward to escaping to become free. Fortunately, she was able to hide in the ”loophole of retreat” for 7 years. It didn’t get her anywhere but at least she wasn’t harassed or abused by her master. At this moment, Jacobs wasn’t doing this for herself, she was doing the best she can to make this world a better place for her children. Both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs had the same issue that they wanted to convey to all people( slavery) and both used their own way to express their feelings, thoughts, and show facts in order to defend their main issue and make the abolitionist movement as strong as they can to eliminate slavery for good.
2- unfortunately, after more than two centuries of abolishing slavery, many people worldwide still face new and varied forms of slavery. Common forms of forced labor are found in industries that are unregulated or that use labor intensively, such as agriculture and fisheries. Most importantly, forced marriage, this type of marriage occurs when the individual does not enter into marriage with free and full consent. This kind of slavery, in my opinion, is similar to what female slaves in the 1800s suffered (sexual abuse) but, today they use their own tricks to make it look like an official marriage. Another important modern form of slavery is child labor. This kind of slavery occur under different circumstances like poverty, lack of education, and most of the time it occurs due to accumulation of debt by their parents.
1. First, read the excerpts from Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl that I have linked to on our “Readings” page. In a brief (250 word) post to our blog, comment on the reading.
The most obvious aspect of this writing that is very enlightening is getting the perspective of a slave woman. As you read about her experiences you see the extra suffering that a woman must endure over a man. Like how Douglass’s aunt is whipped until she bleeds whilst being half naked because the slave holder finds her attractive. Like how Jacobs has to find “clever ways” to not be raped by Dr. Flint. She decided to be in a loveless, passionless relationship to avoid the unwanted interest of the doctor. All of this pain only eludes to the dehumanization that occurred during this time. They considered their masters “good people” because they didn’t beat them as bad. They probably feed them the amount that a human would need. The detachment that you must have with basic human rights must be crazy to characterize slave holders as decent people. Furthermore, Jacobs’ experience is unique in the sense that she was “trapped” in a small, tight attic for seven years to avoid getting her family separated. She would rather feel free while trapped in a small crawl space than to feel powerless in slavery. The choices that were made during that time seemed completely unfathomable to us but that is why it is important in learning about it. Both Douglass and Harriet Jacobs give us a perspective of a crazy, painful time for a specific race in America. They were born into a life of struggle and they had no choice in that matter whatsoever. By giving attention to this deplorable time we will be able to remedy the aftermath that was left by it.
2. Although slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, slavery in various forms continues to be an important Human Rights issue even in our own day. Spend some time exploring the topic of contemporary slavery on the internet, and share on the blog three important things that you learn about this subject.
The most important aspects of modern slavery for me would be mass incarceration and the modern debt system. The incarceration rate for African Americans or black Americans in America is quite deplorable. They disproportionately make up the majority of the incarcerated population whilst being a minority in the population. No race is innately more willing or likely to commit crimes so it is a system that is at fault. We continue to punish people due to the race that were born in, which is something that they have no control over. And in regards to the American debt system, we set an entire race of people on the track to failure and then punish them with high interest rates when they inevitably fail. The debt collection is connected with the bail system making it a crazy and unfair cycle that specifically targets minorities like black Americans. We haven’t moved forward enough when it comes to the suffrage of the people in slavery. All that we have done is put a different face on it but it still isn’t over.
One of the main themes of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the suffering of female slaves during slavery. Comparing to Douglass’s An American Slave, Jacobs took a more emotional and sentimental approach when writing her essays. She portrays a female slave, who is threaten by the aggression of men, struggling to live and achieve freedom. Besides working long hours in the plantation like all slaves, female slaves were constantly under the fear of getting sexually abused by slave owners at the time. Jacobs, just like any other female slaves, dying to find protections for themselves. Jacobs mentions that after she ran away from the plantation, she spent almost seven years hiding in an attic at her grandma’s. This novel has opened more perspectives towards slavery for me. Prior to reading this story, though I was familiar with things like gender inequality and rape that occurred during slavery, I never had a chance to read anything like Life of a Slave Girl to learn more about them. One of the most unforgettable quotes from this novel is “slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women,” which in my opinion sums up the center idea the author tries to convey. While Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs took different approaches when documenting their experience during slavery, they both hold the intention of pushing the abolishment movement forward. They both thought that it was necessary to write so people can be convinced that slavery needs to be eliminated. Fortunately, many people were influenced positively by both essays.
While slavery was abolished 150 years ago, different forms of contemporary slavery still take place in our society today. Human trafficking, forced sex labor, forced child labor are only some examples of critical Human Right issue that are going on today. In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, there are still over 40 million people are in some form of slavery today. It is our responsibility to demand and fight for equality and justice for every human being of this world.
Harriet Jacobs’s narrative adds a new element of American slavery, adding a woman’s perspective compared to Douglass’s perspective of the male point-of-view. Harriet Jacob stated, “When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women.” In my opinion both genders equally suffered immensely by slavery, yet it doesn’t matters who had it far worst- man or woman. I understand Jacobs’ point-of-view and she has every right to feel this way for she makes a strong case with her story. She talks about being violated by her master and dealing with the mistress who was jealous of her and hated such and such child slave because that was the offspring. Both Douglass and Jacobs narratives show that the wife or mistress of the master can be just as cruel as their male counterparts with the actions they partook with the slaves. Women slaves were seen as more valuable because they had the ability to bear children, therefore, adding more slaves in the hands of the slavemaster and thus accumulating more wealth. Harriot Jacobs wanted to escape many times and stated she could have done so but she didn’t escape because she was thinking about her children and couldn’t bear her leaving them behind to suffer the same fate she has had. This was most likely the case for many slave girls who were in the same shoes. For some slaves it could have been a hard decision to choose either leaving their children behind or freedom, in which some chose the latter. Many probably stayed because it was difficult for mothers to escape with their children. Harriot Jacob wanted freedom for her children and herself, sacrificing 7 years in the attic to see it through.
Slavery still exists today but under different circumstances. Some examples include human-trafficking, forced marriage, forced labor, child labor, prisoners, and more. I would say slavery not only happens for people but also animals when they are placed in cages, as is shown in the documentary Tiger King on Netflix; as well as the wild animals in cages in Wuhan China that caused the virus pandemic. I learned that slavery can be hidden in plain sight, people find ways to exploit the vulnerable, and also can be interpreted differently. Interpreted differently where some people believe that sports athletes are slaves to the team’s owner, or that workers are a slave to their bosses, or a child is a slave to their parents, or a person is a slave to time.
1) Harriet Jacobs “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” gives us more insight on the cruelty of slavery, but from the perspective of a slave woman. She explains how she was able to enjoy only 6 years of her life, before slavery and its cruelty took 27 years of her life. In the intro, she has to remind us that she did not exaggerate any part of her narration, and even though some things may sound unbelievable, they really did happen. One part of the narration that struck me was when she mentions that her father and her brother’s mistress called for him at the same time, and he ended up answering his mistress first. This made her father angry, and that brought me back to the discussion on Frederick Douglass where we examined why slaves were separated from their parents by slave owners, and it made sense to me. They did not want slave children to have any connection with their parents so that there will be no form of competition when it came to the attention of these slave children. However, Jacobs mentions that she did not go through a lot of physical abuse from whippings under her master, she still had to suffer physical pain as a result of her hiding for close to 7 years in her “loophole of retreat” for the rest of her life. Harriet Jacobs main inspiration to overcome slavery came from the fear of her children suffering what she suffered, and that brings us back to the love of a mother that was also seen in the narrative of Frederick Douglass. He explains how his mother will walk long miles just to see him, knowing that she might end up in trouble in the hands of her master.
2) Slavery sadly is still an important Human Rights issue in our day, some different forms of modern slavery are human trafficking, and sex trafficking which most of the time is rampant in underdeveloped countries. They occur through threat, fraud, and coercion and due to the desperation of these victims, they fall into the hands of these traffickers as they are vulnerable and easily deceived. Another one is forced child labor which is mostly as a result of poverty, as parents sometimes have no choice than to use children to make a living for the family.
Reading Harriet Jacob’s, Incident in the Life if a Slave Girl, I realized that it is the first time I read what a woman is going through in slavery. I have seen movies, or read texts but from men slaves. I tried to compare between what Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacob has been through, trying to decide what might be worse, being a male or female slave, but both of them are awful. The moment Harriet escaped her Master and she was hidden in grandmother’s roof I thought that she was almost free, but then she was 7 years in this small space, in the winters where it is cold, in the summers where it is extra hot, in the rain. And there is where I understand that she preferred to leave under all these circumstances for 7 years, than leaving with her Master. Both readings reveal how and why both genders are equally desperate to escape slavery. I feel that it is also very different to read actual facts from people, and read about their feelings and emotions at any event that happened to them. The only thing that can come to mind when thinking what the difference between this two readings might be, is that Harriet Jacob’s language is more casual than Frederick Douglass’s, but they both wanted to tell their story in order to stop slavery.
When searching the internet for contemporary slavery, I was expecting on how even today, so many years after slavery was abolished,people still discriminate black people because of their skin color, which of course it was there, but I also came across something else that didn’t even have in mind (for some reason) as a slavery,is human trafficking. Which makes sense, buying and selling people is slavery. Another form of modern slavery, is forced and early marriage, which also makes sense. When there are people and children, that are forced to marry someone for whatever reason, and not being able to deny it, that is slavery. It might not be exactly as it was then, it might be illegal, but it is happening today.
In his narrative, Frederick Douglass discussed the physical torment and dehumanizing effects afflicted upon him and other slaves during his time, and the challenges that came with it. Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, on her autobiography entitled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, takes on the perspective of women and how they were sexually exploited and harassed during the peak of 19th century slavery in America. In her narrative, she recounts that, even at the young age of fifteen, she was sexually abused by her master Dr. Flint. Because of this, it adds to our understanding of slavery that while slave men were forced to work under the sun and tortured if they ever disobey the command of their owners, slave women were abused inside homes and forced to accept their fate in silence. Their cries of agony, like any other slave, were forever shrouded in darkness. Sexual harassment, to me, is a hundred times worse than any account of physical torture by slave men as it degrades not just your body physically, but it also takes a toll on your self-worth and sanity, especially if you were just a mere fifteen-year-old girl. While both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs discuss and attempt to use their testimonies of slavery to push the abolitionist movement into full gear as the slaves still had to buy their way to freedom, the Slave Girl narrative hits home differently as it takes on the emotional states and challenges women had to suffer back then, such as Jacobs’s make-shift shed in the attic as a way to escape her master, and left me thinking: What if the same thing happened to my mom?
While women have been fighting for equal rights and freedom for decades, thus creating the Women’s Rights Movement in the late 20th century, it’s hard to think that some forms of slavery still exist today and are geared towards prejudice against women and children. While physical torture has disappeared along with the slave trade, slavery in modern times consists of human trafficking and child marriage. In most third world countries, women are sexually exploited and sold for sex due to extreme poverty. Brothels, such as those in the Philippines, sell not just those of legal age, but also girls as young as twelve years old. On the other hand, while arranged marriage is a religious thing in other cultures, child marriage can be a whole different thing. To some extent, children, in countries such as Niger, are forced to marry even if they have never given their consent genuinely, thus making them subject to sexual exploitation in the long run.
Many of your were on the call with me yesterday. Here is a brief re-cap of where we are in terms of upcoming assignments and our shift to online learning:
- Recalibration Period, March 27th – April 1st. As you are probably aware, the CUNY Chancellor has announced that we are pausing our online learning temporarily while the various CUNY colleges work to make sure that all students have the ability to access online instruction.
- NO MIDTERM. In light of this announcement, I have decided that it doesn’t make sense to give you a midterm exam next week, as I had planned. This does mean, however, that your final exam will cover the entire semester’s worth of material, not just the second half of the course.
- Check-In. As part of this recalibration effort, I need to hear from those of you who were not on either of the two zoom calls we’ve had. Please take a minute to send me an email and let me know how you are, what’s been going on with you during this crazy time, and what issues and concerns you have about moving forward in this course. This would be the right time to share with me any limiting factors – like familial obligations, health issues, technology problems, etc…. It’s important that I hear from you!
- Moving Forward. Even though instruction is paused, you may want to continue with your reading. Next on our agenda is Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen. I will post an Ibsen-related assignment for you next week. In the meantime, thank you to those of you who have already posted your Frederick Douglass assignments. Don’t forget that I have also posted an assignment related to the Harriet Jacobs reading. You may have to scroll down a bit on the blog to find it.
Because of the “recalibration period,” we will not be having a class zoom call on Wednesday as planned, but I will leave that hour open for a drop-in office hour, so log on and say hello! Please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones during this very challenging time!!!