What is African American literature? According to Wikipedia, African American literature is the body of literature that was produced in the United States by writers of African descent. In my own aspects, African American literature was a way for African Americans writers to freely express how they feel and inform us readers of the harsh realities that they had to face during their time. The start of African American literature which took place before the 20th century was a moment and time where the profile consisted of growth and change. Even though enslavement was a factor during the antebellum period, African Americans started a movement and paved a way for equal civil rights early on in the 1900's. African Americans were still able to at least use writing tools as a source of literary work in the process.
Over the course, we were introduced to many inspirational African American writers such as David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, etc. Each and every individual had their own story that also had connections with other individual writers. Two texts that I will be discussing and comparing are Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.
In correlation to the two readings, both authors touch base on the cruelty of slavery. In 12 Years a Slave, the themes consist of slavery being cancer, freedom, injustice, the dignity of humanity, a women's status is society, and religion while also in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the themes focus on the power and abuse of slavery and the different natures of paradise and prison. Little do some know, racism can play a major role when dealing with slavery that is why, in my opinion, African American literature is vital. African Americans created their own history based on experience and culture. African American literature has been influences by strength and faith.
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Harriet Jacobs does a good job illustrating how there are no "good" slave owners. She argues that slavery corrupts the morale values that slave owners used to have. A slave owner by the name od Dr. Flint is the prime example. Dr. Flint became a monster once he became a slave owner. Most of these owner view slaves as if they were animals or simply just objects. Mr. Sands, on the other hand, promised hopes that will back fire at the end of the day. He had good intentions of freeing his slaves that were children, but if he were to ever have financial problems due to that nature, he will have to sell his own children to get out of his situation so essentially he is back to square one. Slaves suffer from the slave system that is based on morality. They are dehumanized and given no control over their actions or ownership.
Towards the end of the reading, Jacob's illustrates the importance of having a real home that is comfortable and safe. A character by the name of Linda, wanted the best for her children even if it meant putting her children before herself. Women during this time were considered as housewives and just that. Linda tries to figure out a plan to get to freedom and gain independence for both her and her children. The home and family are two important factors that carry value.
Both Jacobs and Northup's narrative emphasize the brutality and deprivation that slaves had to encounter. Slaves were forced to take the beatings and lynching's. Jacobs did not ignore the circumstance but rather made that her focal point in her stories. Slaves were denied even basic human rights and legal protection. They did not have any say in who they wanted to marry or lay with, instead, it was by force.
In 12 Years a Slave, Solomon finds himself to be a prisoner in a slave pen that was owned by James H. Burch. He tries to protect his captivity and address his rights to freedom but Burch threatens to end his life if he were to ever bring it up again. At this point, Solomon realized that there was no hope in being free and things were about to get rough. After being sold, Solomon works on the plantation for William Ford. Ford was more of a kinder man as compared to Burch. Solomon and Ford built a relationship that was different than the other slaves. Ford actually like Solomon but that did not last long for him. Solomon once again gets moved to work for a man by the name of Edwin Epps. He ended up living with Epps for 10 years along the banks of the Red River in Louisiana. Epps was a very cruel and heartless man. A whip was his "best friend" and stayed by his side everywhere that he went. The slaves, including Solomon, were abused, humiliated, and deprived from everything.
A slave by the name of Patsey, had it the worst. Just like any other women in other narratives such as Jacobs, she was raped and whipped due to the nature that his wife was jealous of her. As years began to pass by, Solomon began to lose more and more hope that he will be free until one day. Solomon came across a carpenter by the name of Bass. Bass saw Solomon, heard his story, and wanted to help him out. Bass helps him get out and escapes from his captivity.
There are three major key aspects in 12 Years a Slave. It presents an accurate sense of the slave experience that occurred in the United States around the Antebellum period. Northup speaks with authority when discussing the multiple factors of his enslavement and slavery overall. In the midst of his story, he tries to fight for what is right and become a freed slave. In doing so, Northup accuses his evil slave owner of keeping him captive. He states his slave owners name and informs all the details of his owner that could better help his case. During the trial, Northup became a freed man and this book overall became an inspiration and historical reference for slavery.
Northup, in the novel, speaks on the abuse that he endured being enslaved and that slavery had an impact and every single individual. The practice of slavery became a "chattel bondage." The slaves themselves were degraded, tormented, and stripped of physical, emotional, and spiritual endeavors. Not only are the slaves deprived but the slave owners are as well. Slave owner and degraded and desensitized when it comes to having to change their beliefs and act out on what the "typical" slave owner position is supposed to be held. 12 Years a Slave calls out the white human faces in comparison to evil when it comes to their common practice.
The final aspect that I will bring to attention is that this novel gives a testimony to the power of human spirit and enlightenment. Though Northup was taken from his family, deprived of who he was, and beaten unjustly, he remained humble and did not let that break him down. It takes strength to be the person that Northup was in order to stand slavery. When he lived under the cruelty of Edwin Epps, he never lost hope of one day being free from it all. At them end of Northup's testimony, it proves that with hope, faith, and God on your side, anything is possible and will endure. Northup's testimony was evidence against the slavery system overall at that time in the southern parts of the United States. The moral of the story was to get a point across and endorse the challenges that were faced.
In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Violence is one of the main motifs that is discussed throughout the passage. Linda was able to hear the brutal whips of other slaves and seeing their blood on the walls the next day. Mrs. Flint is supposed to be a Christian woman but yet she instructs the slaves to be whipped until there is blood and spits in their food so that way they will have to go hungry. A Christian person does not act in such manner. She was a heathen from what I got from the reading. Mrs. Flint treated all of the slaves like trash. Slaves were burned and whipped to death on plenty occasions. The wounds on the slaves were washed with brine that way they would endure the pain even more. Jacobs narrates the events in detail so that the readers can hopefully seek a sense of sympathy.
Both readings in my opinion can correlate with the gestures of the world that we live in this very day. People may want to believe that racism is over, but is it really? On the news, we still hear about innocent black people getting killed by racist police officer and KKK members still banning together to kill black people for no reason. The world that we live in is sick and corrupt and it is just the beginning; it is bound to get worse than what we experiencing now. It is time for a change. When will that be? Only time will tell.
- https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/i/incidents-in-the-life-of-a-slave-girl/summary-and analysis/chapter-1
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A Comparison of the Similarities and Differences Between the African American Literature Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and 12 Years a Slave. (2023, May 30). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-comparison-of-the-similarities-and-differences-between-the-african-american-literature-incidents-in-the-life-of-a-slave-girl-and-12-years-a-slave/
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