Many Black Americans were influenced by forced labor in the United States. Some slaves were able to escape, allowing them to write narratives, which varied greatly depending on who was writing them. Since men and women were handled differently during slavery, their recollections of such events differed. Thus, the following essay will compare and the perspectives of a female slave, Harriet Jacobs, in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” to Frederick Douglass, in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in terms of audience and messages.
Douglass recounted his social and political life. For example, he described how his life changed as he went through different growth stages and development, which affected his decision to flee. On the other hand, Harriet Jacob characterized her life as “full of misery” due to a lack of freedom and rights. She said that sexual abuse and harassment were the most severe issues she had to deal with. Such portrayal allows diving into gender discrimination and the inability to misbehave as a woman, attracting mostly female readers.
Douglass had powers to stand up for his rights and demand justice, while Harriet was forced to influence only through her writing. Douglass, as a man, stared slavery and freedom squarely in the eyes. “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man,” Douglass says (424). He shows how he protested and stood up for himself against his Master, resulting in a shift in the way his Master treated him in the future. Such demonstration vividly portrays the message Douglass conveyed of an ability to defend oneself against Masters.
Concluding, Douglass had a more compelling and straightforward way of writing, propagating the fight against slavery. His message was more clearly defined, while Harriet mostly portrayed life. She knew she had no ability to speak out; therefore, she just described how women were treated during slavery. Even though the messaging is distinct in many ways, they are solitary on the goal to expose slavery and commemorate it in history.
Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009.