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In addition, his story could be read as a classic male “initiation” myth, a tale which traced a youth’s growth from innocence to experience and from boyhood into successful manhood; for Douglass, the testing and journey motifs of this genre were revised to highlight the slave’s will to transform himself from human chattel into a free American citizen.Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, began her narrative around 1853, after she had lived as a fugitive slave in the North for ten years.In adapting her life story to this genre, Jacobs drew on women writers who were contemporaries and even friends, including well-known writers Lydia Maria Child and Fanny Fern (her employer’s sister in law), but she was also influenced by the popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which appeared in 1851.
The fugitive or freed or “ex” slave narrators were expected to give accurate details of their experiences within bondage, emphasizing their sufferings under cruel masters and the strength of their will to free themselves.
One of the most important elements that developed within the narratives was a “literacy” scene in which the narrator explained how he or she came to be able to do something that proslavery writers often declared was impossible: to read and write.
Common Senses design for a republican government, and its basic principles were carried on to the Constitution.
Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs: American Slave Narrators Lucinda Mac Kethan Alumni Distinguished Professor of English Emerita, North Carolina State University National Humanities Center Fellow ©National Humanities Center During the last three decades of legal slavery in America, from the early 1830s to the end of the Civil War in 1865, African American writers perfected one of the nation’s first truly indigenous genres of written literature: the North American slave narrative.
Authenticity was paramount, but readers also looked for excitement, usually provided through dramatic details of how the slave managed to escape from his/her owners.
Slave narrators also needed to present their credentials as good Christians while testifying to the hypocrisy of their supposedly pious owners.Jacobs, and also Frederick Douglass in his second autobiography of 1855, took advantage of Stowe’s successful production of a work of fiction that could still lay claim to the authority of truth.Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl did not fictionalize or even sensationalize any of the facts of Jacobs’s experience, yet its author, using pseudonyms for all of her “characters,” did create what William Andrews has called a “novelistic” discourse, including large segments of dialogue among characters.When Douglass published his Narrative of the Life, the Abolitionist movement was beginning to gain political force, while the long-delayed publication of Jacobs’s Incidents in 1861 was overshadowed by the start of the Civil War.Douglass was a publicly acclaimed figure from almost the earliest days of his career as a speaker and then a writer.His narrative was the culmination of his speech-making career, reflecting his mastery of a powerful preaching style along with the rhythms and imagery of biblical texts that were familiar to his audiences.Douglass also reflected the Emersonian idealism so prominent in the 1840s, as he cast himself in the role of struggling hero asserting his individual moral principles in order to bring conscience to bear against the nation’s greatest evil.She began working privately on her narrative not long after Cornelia Grinnell Willis purchased her freedom and gave her secure employment as a domestic servant in New York City.Jacobs’s manuscript, finished around four years later but not published for four more, reflects in part the style, tone, and plot of what has been called the sentimental or domestic novel, popular fiction of the mid-nineteenth century, written by and for women, that stressed home, family, womanly modesty, and marriage.Americans realized the inherent fallacies of hereditary government (specifically monarchy) as well as the English Constitution which protected the monarchy.It permanently cemented the idea of a republican, non-hereditary government into the heads of Americans.