Monday, June 13, 2011

Seasons within the Life of a Slave

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Seasons within the Life of a Slave

In the life of a slave, most every day followed the same routine, and each year was just as predictable as the one previous. Although each slave had his or her own inexcusable daily tasks given by the master, they all seemed to have their own sadness, within which a unique anecdote is intertwined. This phenomenon may be observed by considering the happenings in the narratives of two slaves Linda Brent in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs and Mr. Charlton in “Sketch of the Life of Mr. Lewis Charlton, and Reminiscences of Slavery” by Edward Everett Brown. By taking into account the resemblances and differences of the two, one can understand the variations of abuse inflicted upon each slave.

The slave experiences of both Linda and Mr. Charlton were mostly filled with the utmost cruelty and disrespect. Shattered emotions and torn flesh made the thought of each upcoming day more and more undesirable. Pain was equally experienced between the two, although there was a different type of vindictiveness distributed to each. Harriet Jacobs wrote with a pseudonym, Linda. In her story, Linda encountered emotional and sexual abuse by her master Mr. Flint. The harshness and insensitiveness that Mr. Flint rendered upon Linda because of her longing to be with a man whom would love rather than exploit her only led her to have a growing hatred towards him. She told him “You have tried to kill me, and I wish you had; but you have no right to do as you like with me” (Jacobs 176). Mr. Charlton takes on a different form of abuse from his masters. On several occasions he was beaten so extensively that he was unable to use his legs. “For three years I had to labor hard ploughing and hoeing in the field, with no flesh on the bones in the centre of my legs, and when the clothes were removed from my legs, the white bones could be plainly seen” (Brown). He also witnessed the death of two slaves who, instead of being caught by their master in an attempt to escape, would rather throw themselves into a flaming furnace and put an end to their misery. These terrible conditions and hatred inflicted upon slaves is referred to as “the atmosphere of hell” (1764) in Jacobs’s work.

Both Jacobs and Brown expressed the importance of true freedom; however, there was a different aspect displayed by each. Linda participated in the abolitionist movement in order to free powerless slaves and be reunited with her children. Jacobs expressed her connection to the helplessness of undesirable slavery which allowed the reader to understand her desire for their freedom “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” (1767). Mr. Charlton also strived to give slaves (former and current) an education that they had not previously been capable of obtaining. After receiving his freedom he realized that “There was no churches for them to attend divine worship, no ministers to preach to them the word of God and teach them lessons of truth and wisdom, no schools where they could be educated” (Brown). He was also a faithful believer in God and referred to the “nation’s hypocrisy and oppression” because of its willingness to allow the colored race, enslaved and free, to be so foully mistreated (Brown). Although he encountered many hardships in efforts to attain a chance for his race’s knowledge and truth, he displayed vast consistency for this task which revealed his longing to be respected by all men.

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Freedom was granted to Linda and Mr. Charlton. There was great happiness connected to independence, but there were past recollections of old friends and emotions that were forever in their memories as well. Linda recalled the terrible memories of her former master, Mr. Flint, and says, “…she was a better Christian than I was if she could entirely forgive him. I cannot say, with truth, that the news of my old master’s death softened my feelings towards him. There are wrongs which even the grave does not bury” (Jacobs 1774). She also fondly reminisces on past times “I would gladly forget them if I could. Yet the retrospection is not altogether without solace; for with those gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother” (Jacobs 177). Her statements provide evidence of the thoughts that linger with her existence. In addition to the emotional baggage, slaves were not treated justly by citizens who did not agree to their “free” status. Mr. Charlton underwent this occurrence when he tried to take one of his employers to court for refusing to pay him the amount that was earlier agreed upon. Edward Brown described Mr. Charlton’s court experience by writing, “The court was a mockery; there was no such thing as justice; the only difference was that he was white and I was black, the law protected white men and trampled upon black men.” This unjustly treatment by the nation, its government, and his fellow citizens continued to torment him throughout all of his life’s challenges.

These works by Harriet Jacobs and Edward Brown are stories about the lives of two slaves and their struggles with freedom, life, and liberty. Both authors have directed his or her work to a specific audience in order to touch their hearts and minds with the tremendous and diverse struggles encountered by each. The focus of Jacobs’s story was on the difficulty of a woman held captive to slavery. Jacobs wrote, “The influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that they had on other young girls; they had made me prematurely knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world. I knew what I did, and I did it with deliberate calculation” (1766). She sought an audience of women; for she believed that, in her time period, all women should work collectively because they are all under the control of white men. Therefore, she told her story in an effort to encourage the support of all women. Edward Brown wrote to reach different listeners. He endeavored to include and enlighten all citizens with his knowledge and thoughts on slavery and the equal treatment of all men. His particular addressees, though, were those claiming to have a Christian faith because he believed that they would take the greatest action in response to his writing. In attempt to assure his readers that his task and reliability would be everlasting he wrote

“But I am still toiling, although my pathway is strewn with thorns, and not flowers, the black cloud of prejudice hangs over me, men try to blacken and defame my character, and crush me, because they have the power in their hands, but I will fight my way through till I die, striving to raise means to educate and make Christian men and women out of now raw material” (Brown).

Mr. Charlton had a desire to dispose of the immoral characteristics of society. Harriet Jacobs’s and Edward Brown’s purpose for these writings was to educate the readers on the harsh circumstances of human captivation, and putting an end to the existence of slavery was the lifelong goal of both writers.

Works Cited

Brown, Edward Everett. “Sketch of the Life of Mr. Lewis Charlton, and Reminiscences

of Slavery.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries Documenting the American South. 000. 5 February, 00. http.//

Jacobs, Harriet. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” The Norton Anthology of

American Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. 6th ed. vol B. New York Norton,

00. 175-177.

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