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Comparing Mary Rowlandson And Harriet Jacobs Narratives English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1577 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The notion of captivity and slavery is an unpleasant notion which is examined by Harriet Jacobs and Mary Rowlandson in order to understand the hardships that were however caused in the lives of the enslaved African-Americans and the slaves under the Indian enslavement. The conditions that the slaves lived under, without any doubt can be described as inhumane and intolerable. The slaves who were put under captivity received painful treatment from their masters and it was more unbearable for the women who were under captivity. Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl and the Mary Rowlandson’s A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson imply that jealous mistresses, sexual abuse, and the loss of children caused the female slaves to be able to endure a hard life and more dreadful in the captivity.

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The two narratives describe that it is a difficult and a hard predicament to be held in captivity. The situation becomes much worse for the children and women. The two uses clear straightforward and detail language, except at the point where they talk about sexual history, in pursue of explaining what it is to be held in captivity or to be a slave. Harriet’s in particular explains that the Northerners only think of the slavery as the perpetual bondage; this means that they are not in a position to understand the depth of degradation that comes along with the word slavery and captivity. Harriet believes that there is no human being who could truly understand how severe slavery is unless they themselves have gone through it. This book by Harriet explains the hard labor and physical pains that she underwent as a slave. However, she also focuses on the emotional viewpoints on the slavery and also how the position of being under captivity shaped her to what she is now.

The motive of Harriet’s writing is clear and it is of political taking. She is able to write through her sufferings and experiences in order to make everything clear to everyone especially the Northerners who are the white women who dwelt in the North, how slavery works and what it really is. Harriet does not require sympathy and she however wants to arouse all women from the North to realize the severity of captivity and slavery (Harriet 2004: 20).

These narratives were written in order to appeal to the free white women and to also have these women involve in the antislavery struggle. The narrative by Harriet signals various important departures from the social and literary conventions of the captivity narrative, a genre that has enjoyed widespread acceptance in the U.S. during the period between 1840 and 1850. Harriet struggled for freedom in the intricate network of community, social, and family relationships. Her struggle for real freedom is inextricable from the desire that she had for freedom for the two children that she had.

These two writers through the two narratives and also feminist movement were able to seek the gaining of the rights for all women. Many females and feminists during this early 19th century struggled to fight for the ending and abolition of slavery and captivity throughout the whole world. These slave narratives were used as powerful feminist tools especially in this century. The white and black women are objectified and also fictionalized in these slave narratives. The white women are however idealized as angelic, chaste and pure whereas the black women are idealized as exotic women who contained a savage and an uncontrollable sexuality. These two narratives were able to bring out the sexual oppression of the captive black women into a political and public arena (Harriet 2004: 54).

The narrative by Harriet is a very powerful statement which unveils the undesirability and impossibility of achieving the real and ideal brought about by men though maintained by the women. The two women take very great risk in writing their trials as house servants and also fugitives.

Slavery and captivity also referred to as “Peculiar Institution” of the South has caused great suffering especially among an innumerable number of people. However, most people are bound to argue that the domestic animal’s life would be far much better than being held under captivity as a slave. This is because the animals at least are not able to feel any emotions. The sufferings countless atrocities, that included beatings, sexual assault, and also murders, these slaves or captors endured a lot more than anyone could imagine that it would be humanly possible. However, the white southern Christians also committed the atrocities, because they believed that their behaviors would be neither immoral nor wrong (Mary 2007: 56).

These atrocities make the Christians to be referred to as appalled and Harriet in her own narrative has explained the great hypocrisy of the Christians who lived in the South. This is because these Christians are also slave owners and this shows that Christianity and slavery are not congruent. The Christians should hold on to the truth that all the people are created equal and they are endowed by God who is their creator. When practicing slavery, these Christians do not represent well what they believe in.

The two narratives use Bible verses in an attempt to contextualize the plight of Mary and Harriet and also to try and provide both of them with hope. These two women were captives who had the hope of being freed from their bonds.

There is a major contrast between the two narratives, in regard to the treatment that the two received from their captors. Harriet on one hand was one of the slaves of the white owners and therefore was seen as an object of their sexual desire. On the other hand, Mary Rowlandson was generally a domestic for the people who owned her, and these were the Native Americans. She mostly worked for women and she did not put it as though she was taken to be an object of sexual desire. When Mary was freed from the captivity, she has her home and a husband that she could return to; she is able to continue with her life which now comes with some level of consistency. On the other hand, when Harriet is freed she had nowhere to go back to because she had no life to return to and she is all by herself. Harriet is only able to start a new life although this was accompanied by a huge amount of fear and uncertainty (Harriet 2004: 40).

Mary Rowlandson was returned and also ransomed and therefore nobody would follow her and all the people in her community knew her well and it would be easy for them to trust her. On the contrary, Harriet lives in great fear of retribution and capture and she is not accepted or even trusted by the community that she lives with in the north.

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The narrative by Mary Rowlandson has a major purpose of glorifying God. Mary is seen to glorify God in all that she did. She was however discouraged by the Indians in an attempt to discourage the faith that she had but she went ahead to depend on the word of God to remove her out of the misery that she was under in the captivity land. Mary had been taken in as an Indian slave (Mary 2007: 10).

Harriet was born into slavery in the North Carolina whereas Mary was taken into slavery after a war by the Indians. The captors of the two women and the description that they give concerning slavery, tells their readers what the African Americans go through every day. Theirs is a life full of being ravaged by slavery and also being brutalized.

The mother to Harriet passed away when she was still young but the mistress of her mother, who was the half-sister to the mother, took good care of Harriet and also she endowed the great gift of literacy. The real and horrid reality was hidden away from her till the time she became a teen. At this point, her father and also the mistress passed away, and she now had to become a slave in the household of Flint. From this time she lost all her freedom and got into the life of persecution that the slaves go through every day. From the author’s description of slavery, we can conclude that slavery is more to just mere perpetual bondage. In her narrative titled “incidents in the life of a slave girl,” Harriet was able to give the true account of the evils and dangers slavery held for the women in general, an aspect that had in the past remained to be a secret to the general public. She however focused on the subjugation because of race, and gave a real voice subtly to the various kinds of captivity, which the women imposed on all women in spite of of their color in the patriarchal culture of the 19th century. This kind of bondage was not only exacted from women by their fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands but was also propelled by the women themselves (Harriet 2004: 34).

Both Mary and Harriet have shown their captors to be inconsiderate. Mary explained her tribulations, sufferings and trials that she underwent in the hands of her captors who were the Algokian Indians. She had to endure hardships and therefore developed an indifferent attitude towards the captors.

Work cited

Mary Rowlandson. Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. New York: BiblioBazaar, 2007.

Harriet Jacobs. Incidents in the life of a slave girl written by herself. New York: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.


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