Review of Mary Rowlandson’s Biography, the House Slave, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Slavery is a common literature issue that is mentioned in works from the past and present day. Despite its negative connotations and implications of abuse, slavery is a common practice for a large portion of the world still. Slavery is a means for cheap labor, easy exploitation and to do illegal activities via another individual. However, in the three following personal narratives, the female protagonists share a common character trait: strength. Despite being in scenarios and situations that succumb to powerless roles for women, each heroine is able to give a glimpse of a future that embodies powerful actions by women, instead of having to wait on a man to assist them. All give women the hope and motivation to retain strength, despite society’s standards and their withheld positions.
In Mary Rowlandson’s autobiography on her own experiences as a Native American captive, she transforms from a frail damsel in distress to an independent spirit. Though Mary is terrified about being captured, she remains to have high spirits regardless of her current living situation. Since Mary is more optimistic, the tribe is friendlier with her as well. In one instance, Mary is given food to eat that is plentiful, because she passes the tribe’s test. “Another squaw gave me a piece of fresh pork, and a little salt with it, and lent me her pan to fry it in; and I cannot but remember what a sweet, pleasant and delightful relish that bit had to me, to this day” is one of the many positive points from Mary during her captured state (Rowlandson, 177).
The most obvious reason for Mary’s strength due to her faith in Jesus Christ and God. She realizes that to make it alive out of her condition, she must be on friendly terms with the same people who captured her. The longer that Mary is there, the more she connects biblical text with the everyday life interactions around her. For example, Mary uses the following verse to show her appreciation to the Native woman who feeds her: “He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives (Psalm 106.46) [Rowlandson, 174].” Mary’s constant use of biblical text begin to rub off on the tribe, who finally agrees to free her. Mary’s survival was solely based on her consistency to show she is harmless. In the House Slave, however, the strength of the servant goes further.
Dove’s “The House Slave” is a literature piece that gives many the visualization of slavery that they have been anticipating. Instead of being a true story told, The House Slave is a basic summary of how the majority of African slaves feel with a slight plot twist at the end. As Dove insists, “The first horn lifts its arm over the dew-lit grass and in the slave quarters there is a rustling (Dove, 1384),” describes the true environment of slavery in the United States. There was not peace in this era; instead, the slaves were expected to get up and start on their jobs, whether or not their masters were awake as well. They were to follow through with the orders or to be beaten. Chore began at this time, but the main character was not on the same wavelength as her peers.
Instead, she is describing these incidents with slaves waking up for the morning and already being tormented with nostalgia. Her sister yells, “Oh! Pray!” sounds at first like she is trying to save the main character from an incident. However, the case is different: she has already escaped. It is a nightmare that the slave is enduring, regretting that her family was left behind. “I weep. It is not yet daylight (Dove, 1385),” is reminiscing on the dream of her memories, but not regretting her decision to leave. She was strong enough to be on her cot, by herself, but she remembers the family she had to leave behind to have the life she does. However, it does not take away her memories, which has her feeling guilty for not bringing her sister along. Harriet Jacobs relates to Dove in her own autobiography, stating a sense of guilty and nervousness for being an intersectional case of slavery.
Harriet Jacobs was the first ever freed female slave to write a book on her circumstances. She is the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which narrates her upbringing from her days as a slave to when she was able to be freed by her friend. Jacobs disguised the story as being her own when calling the main character Linda, but she also wants the Northern population to be aware of the circumstances of slaves living in the South. Considered a fugitive to the South, Jacobs ends up accomplishing her goal after many years of abuse. Sadly, she had to even relinquish the right to ever see her children, who were also being enslaved, despite an agreement to keep their children safe from the grips of the slavery system.
Jacob’s (or Linda’s) tipping point was seeing the treatment of her children in the North and the treatment of slaves in the system. As she summarizes her point, “I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks (Jacobs, 619),” Jacobs makes note of how slavery affects all. Though she was able to use psychological tactics and manipulation to save herself from her master’s lust, she also knew that plenty were victimized. She also knew that it hurt the white families as well, in the comments about the system. “It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched,” optimizes the viewpoint of Jacob’s, which is to give slaves their independence and end a vicious cycle, that continues to spread like a disease in the South.
For Jacobs and Dove’s character, slavery continued thanks to the pigment in their skin. While Mary was a white woman who was released, she also had to use tactics to be freed. All three showed mental strength in their arguments and discussions, noting how one must be willing to break the world to be freed or gain their freedom. Despite the knowledge of the Native American and European fights and the African slave trade, slavery still happens today, with the majority of it involving sex slavery in human trafficking. If there is anything these three female characters taught the audience, it is how to stand up for yourself in incidences that are not right, and how to continue to be a strong person, despite what society wants from you.
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