The best way to give someone the idea of an institution’s terrible enormity, is to give them depictions of people who have suffered under it. This is the principle idea of the slave narrative, where former slaves tell their experiences in slavery and how they escaped. As most were written when slavery was still legal, the true purpose of these published accounts is addressed in a myriad of different ways throughout, but sums up to this – to convince the reader, through depictions of abuse and dehumanization, that slavery should not be condoned, for the perpetual abuse and misery the slave must endure is not worth the product.
Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs are two examples of slave narrative authors who utilize this emotional appeal strategy throughout their stories in order to produce a thoroughly-supported antislavery assertion. Douglass details how he is transferred from master to master, without any true friends or family, learning about his condition along the way, and how great it would be to be free from the snares of slavery. Jacobs tells how she must suffer sexual abuse from her obsessive master, Dr. Flint, the lengths that he will go to make her suffer, and the lengths that she will go to ensure the safety of herself and her children.
Their stories are unique, and while the depictions of people treating others in ways thought repulsive, inhuman, and perhaps morally impossible, both authors decline to stop there, and will often go out of their way to directly address the reader as well, discussing their own freedom, the freedom of their fellow slaves, and their desire to put an end to slavery. Emotionally-evoking responses are used by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs in their slave narratives in order to persuade the reader of slavery’s horrors.
Authors Douglass and Jacobs are able to achieve their goal of eliciting emotion in their audiences by simply depicting instances of slave cruelty to them. In most of Douglass’s life that he reveals to his audience in his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he lives as a city slave, in Baltimore, Maryland. Though he is still forced in a life of labor and servitude here, his condition seems to be unquestionably better than that of of plantation slave, which he depicts to the reader through his experiences as a plantation slave.
In the city, Douglass is able to get himself a job, and in his private time, learn how to read and write – plantation slaves have no such opportunities. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t realize the importance of reading and writing. They realize that reading and writing can be a crucial factor in a slave’s attempt to escape – evidently, masters realize this as well, and have severe punishments waiting if a slave chooses to read and write.
However, when Douglass holds a Sunday school, which is secretly designed to help slaves read and write, it nevertheless sees many attend. Douglass writes of these slaves, “These dear souls came not to Sabbath school because it was popular to do so, nor did I teach them because it was reputable to be thus engaged. Every moment they spent in that school, they were liable to be taken up, and given thirty-nine lashes. They came because they wished to learn. Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters.
They had been shut up in mental darkness. I taught them, because it was the delight of my soul to be doing something that looked like bettering the condition of my race” (Douglass 75). Here, Douglass paints of more vivid picture of this situation, that reveals to the reader its significance. By not letting their slaves read or write, they dehumanize them – they don’t want their slaves to be intelligent, or be able to interpret information, in order to better suit them for a life of emotionless, involuntary servitude.
By taking Douglass’s classes to read and write, the slaves risk punishment, but this is their way of claiming their human & civil rights, and their way of not conforming to a system that deprives them of these rights – an intense notion that is sure to make the audience feel emotional and opinionated about slavery. Jacobs also uses these kinds of examples in the narrative chronicling her time as a slave. Unlike Douglass, Jacobs is very close with what family she does have, and as a slave, this makes her very lucky.
Not only do slaves often have no surviving family, but often what family slaves do have is purposefully removes from them, perhaps by intent of a master who doesn’t want their slave to feel happy and joyous around family. A slave trader is often a very crucial instrument in this destruction of family ties, as they pick which slaves will be ‘ideal for work, which may involve slaves falling under any number of criterion. The slaves realize this, and live in fear such people involved with slave trading.
Jacobs mentions the fear of slave traders time and time again through depicting various incidents, at one point stating, “If you want to be fully convinced of the abominations of slavery, go on a southern plantation, and call yourself a negro trader. Then there will be no concealment; and you will see and hear things that will seem to you impossible among human beings with immortal souls” (Jacobs 81). Here, Jacobs connects the fear of slave traders to the altogether horrors of slavery, joining the two into a bigger picture.
When she mentions those things ‘impossible among human beings with immortal souls’, she is referring to what will happen to the slaves if they are sold, and the masters who plan for this to be carried out. Mothers are ripped from their children, and sent to a place of either equal or worse condition than their current – by law, they don’t have a right to know, as property. Their masters have no regard for their well-being, or their existence at all. These depictions of dehumanization are disturbing, and when Jacobs writes about them, she hopes to give her reader another excellent reason to hate slavery To appeal to a wide audience and variety of readers, Douglass and Jacobs occasionally directly address, or refer to, the reader in their slave narratives to let the reader become more connected with their struggle in slavery. Douglass has a great advantage in appealing to his audience as majority of his readers may be less familiarized with the setting of a plantation, and more familiar with the setting of a city, which allows them to relate to his story more.
However, Douglass has a good idea of what it means to have to relate and conform to a foreign life, as an escaped slave. He discusses his new life as a freedman in the narrative, and especially how the cuts of slavery still sting and run deep in his life. He feels as if he is unable to be at peace if so many he knows are still living lives of undecided servitude at the will of cruel masters, and that he will never be able to adapt to society this way.
To represent his feelings to the reader, he occasionally writes of incidents where he felt out of place in his new society, and he occasionally vents to the reader of what it feels like to live in such a dramatically different way. Stating a long list of perilous situations he finds comfortably comparable to slavery, he writes, “Let him be a fugitive slave in a strange land–a land given up to be the hunting-ground for slaveholders–whose inhabitants are legalized kidnappers– where he is every moment subjected to the terrible liability of being seized upon by his fellowmen, as the hideous crocodile seizes upon his prey! … ] I say, let him be placed in this most trying situation,–the situation in which I was placed,– then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate the hardships of, and know how to sympathize with, the toil-worn and whip-scarred fugitive slave” (Douglass 93). The reader can clearly see the reason for Douglass’s inability to adapt to life as an escaped slave here. Being an escaped slave, and not a freedman, Douglass isn’t able to talk to anyone about his experiences as a slave – whether it be for discussion purposes, educational purposes, or sympathizing purposes.
So, the things he compares slavery to are things he’s had a generous amount of time to mull overthey’re well-thought out, and Douglass is likely able to support each example with an incident from his own life. Additionally, by starting each example with ‘let him’, he encourages the reader to observe this from not the point-of-view of Douglass, but with someone as unfamiliar with slavery as Douglass is unfamiliar with free life – a friend, a family member, or even themselves.
This tactic is used to get the reader to envision themselves in Douglass’s position, and succeeds in helping them realize the terrible abuse that victims of slavery must endure. Jacobs does this very similarly with her readers in her slave narrative. However, what makes her story very unique from Douglass’s is the fact that she stayed with one master her entire life, and as a house slave, making her story much more intimate and familiar to the reader than Douglass’s.
Her cruel master, Dr. Flint, sexually abuses her, and has an obsession with her as a result of his attraction to her. This is only intensified by her position as a slave. She wants to reject his advances, but she faces a severe threat to the safety of herself and her family if she does; thus, she is essentially unable to do anything, as he makes it his priority to make her life miserable. She writes of her dehumanization by him, “Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader!
You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You never exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a hated tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and trembled within hearing of his voice” (Jacobs 57). Here, the intent of Jacobs’s detailings and accounts of Dr. Flint’s abuse become distinct.
Constantly living in fear of an abuser, and facing much worse punishment if daring to stand up to them, is a concept that may be familiar to an, albeit, small number of readers. The intense description Jacobs gives of not having any civil rights and being defined as, by law, a piece of property, however, will likely be an unfathomable idea to the reader. However, Jacobs has already caused the reader to place themselves in the position of Jacobs as a slave, nd the desired effect has taken place – her depictions will cause them to have an opinion about the cruelties and abuse a slave must endure.
Slavery is a concept that can be unfathomable to many readers today – just like it was in the 19th century, when slavery was still legal in the U. S.. Slave narratives, thus, become an important and indispensable tool that not only give readers a glimpse of history, but also a glimpse of what slaves truly had to endure under masters who often didn’t care about them, and treated with all the rights given to them by the law – little to no rights, that is.
To do this, slave narrative authors expose their readers to depictions of slave cruelties, alongside their own ventings and expressions about the abuse and dehumanization they’ve had to suffer, using tactics to appeal to the reader’s sense of logic, and the reader’s emotions. Although their stories are unique, both Douglass and Jacobs use pathos in hopes that their recounts of slavery will ensure that another slave narrative will never have to be written again.