This is a passage from the "Incidents" and it is significant because it differentiates the experiences and burdens of female and male slaves, which consequently affect how they devise their plans for escape. It explains why women slaves cannot always pursue the ways of Nat Turner and Frederick Douglass, because when they are mothers, their freedom is second to the freedom of their children. This also suggests a temporality that it would just have been easier if women slaves murder all white slaveholders and their children, but in real life, they see for a more peaceful freedom, wherein they can simply be with their children.
This is a passage from Thomas R. Gray who received the testimony of Nat Turner. This is a significant passage because it is a paratext that undermines the reasons for Turner's revolution, by making Turner look like a murderer of innocent people, and with no other purpose but to kill people per se. It is interesting that Gray's bloods curl for a man who has killed white slaveholders, because it presupposes that only white people can kill black people and still manage to raise their hands to the Heavens and feel justified for their actions.
This is a passage from Douglass' narratives and it is important because Douglass is talking about the achievement that can lead him to freedom- education- and that the white people also know that it is their education which also provides them power over the slaves. The white people also know that education can expose slaves to ideas and possibilities of freedom and development, which would derail the whole idea of keeping slaves ignorant and obedient. Douglass then realizes that through education, it is possible for him to earn enough to buy his freedom and he can also access new ideas and learning that were otherwise blocked from his access by white slaveholders.
This excerpt comes from the testimony of Nat Turner, wherein he describes his vision to Gray. This vision is important because the drop of blood symbolizes what Turner sees as a calling for a revolution that could end white people's exploitation and oppression of his race, and so he understands finally that he must lead his people to freedom through a bloody revolution. This passage is also interesting, because it also uses a flawed logic for oppressing other people, which is through religion and violence, the very same means that the white people use to oppress black people.
This is an excerpt from Douglass' narratives and it is important because Douglass is preparing the readers for a whole new event in his life that would characterize how he shifted from being a slave to being a man. He does this through a physical fight with Mr. Covey, wherein he fought the latter would all his might. This event led to no more whipping for Douglass, because at last, he proved himself worthy to be treated as a man, even at least, in his own perceptions, because it is more likely that Mr. Covey no longer whipped him for fear of undermining his reputation as a breaker of slave spirit.
This is an excerpt from "Incidents," wherein Harriet discovers another inhuman limitation to being a slave- to have no right to marry and build their own families. She could not even have her own man to love and marry, and no law or master would allow it. Her heart sank because she is reminded once more that as a slave, she is not a human being with human rights, and that again, she is merely a means to the white people's ends, and she would live only to serve their needs and whims, and nothing more than that.
This is an excerpt from Douglass' narratives and it is important because Douglass describes the atrocious whippings of black slaves and his role in these series of violence. He is a witness because he sees everything that happens to other slaves in the household, which makes is very difficult for him, because the bloodshed makes him feel less of a human more and more, as his people were treated as animals. He is a participant because his inaction also suggests that he is party to this oppression, and that he is a participant that makes him feel even worse for his own race.
This is a passage from Thomas R. Gray who received the testimony of Nat Turner, and this is an important excerpt because it undermines the reasons and destinies of Nat Turner. By calling him a "complete fanatic," Gray asserts that only a crazy person would even think that a slave has a right to rebellion for freedom, and by saying that Nat plays his part "admirably," Gray argues that it is also possible that Nat is merely acting to be a righteous man, when he is only a thief and a drunkard. These beliefs highlight that Gray does not see any valid reason for a black slave asking for freedom; it is a destiny and reason that has no validity for the white slaveholders.
This is an excerpt from "Incidents," wherein Harriet reflects on how slaves can remain moral, when they are not treated like human beings. This excerpt underscores the difficulty for slaves to know what is right and wrong, when they left ignorant by their masters and treated like objects. She argues that if slaves are made ignorant and they are objects, this makes them free from the human morality of white people. On the other hand, white people also expect them to be moral and pious, only for their own purposes and needs, which make morality a double standard that only advantages the white people.
This is an excerpt from Douglass' narratives and it is important because Douglass mulls over the strategies of slavery, wherein masters keep their slaves by making them satisfied with their lives or busy enough for them to have no energy to think of an alternative state of life. This is one of the strategies of his masters, so that Douglass would forget about freedom. Douglass, however, could not let go of his dreams of being free and for freeing his people, because he cannot be a "thoughtless" slave for a long time.
Paratext and Text
The "Confessions of Nat Turner" and "A Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" both include paratext, which serves to reinforce the subordination of the black race. This paper discusses the relationships between the paratext and the text of the African Americans, and how they work in the context of affirming white hegemony. It argues that Douglass comments on the purposes and authorities that constrain their expression and assert different purposes and destinies, by describing his experiences as a slave, and how he endeavored to secure his freedom from this bondage. Turner, on the other hand, asserts a different purpose and destiny than what white authorities have planned for black slaves, by speaking of his destiny to free slaves, because of his visions. In general, they also show that African American literature criticizes white domination, by admitting their under-capacities, which is a direct affront, to how African American have been deliberately uneducated, so that they may never learn the precious ideas and possibilities of freedom and equality.
Douglass comments on the purposes and authorities that constrain their expression and assert different purposes and destinies, by describing his experiences as a slave, and how he endeavored to secure his freedom from this bondage, despite all odds. He starts with his early childhood, which already depicts that as a slave, he is not considered a human being with the right to know his birthday. He says in chapter 1: "By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs..." (281). He also stresses that his master does not provide him this information, because such questions are "improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit." By describing this experience, Douglass highlights that he sees his rights for some freedoms early in his life, but this right to freedom is always squashed by slaveholders. In connection to the paratext, Garrison says: "the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory, completely taken by surprise." That he is taken by surprise of hearing about an intelligent and gentle slave already remarks of his prejudice about blacks having an inclination for learning "more." This already indicates that there is still white superiority that highlights that it is not the purpose of a slave to be intelligent and inquisitive, but rather they should remain ignorant and obedient. In addition, Douglass also depicts how he endured many sacrifices to educate himself, an education that will be his tool for freedom. These efforts for self-education are, nonetheless, undermined when Garrison says: "After apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart" (270). This paratext affirms that self-education is second to the formal education of the whites.
Nat Turner, on the other hand, asserts a different purpose and destiny than what white authorities have planned for his race, by speaking of his destiny as a prophet of God. He sees a vision of the battle between black and white spirits and he interprets it as a call for a rebellion and widespread bloodshed. He believes that he has being given a mission, by no other than God Himself, and that this mission is to deliver his race from the white man's oppression and exploitation. Thomas Gray also undermines the true motives of Nat by saying: "It is notorious, that he was never known to have a dollar in his life; to swear an oath, or drink a drop of spirits" (261). Saying this ruins the reputation of Turner and in addition, he also avoids that it is possible that this rage comes from a legitimate reason for anger because of slavery. Gray, hence, questions the validity of a black revolution.
The narratives from Turner and Douglass criticize white domination and exploitation, while attesting to their own form of expression, by admitting their under-capacities. In doing so, they are also arguing that the African American have been deliberately uneducated, so that they may never learn the precious ideas and possibilities of freedom and equality. But when they did become literate, the steps toward freedom could no longer be shrouded by slaveholders and slavery supporters, who wanted nothing more than to keep their slaves weak-minded and weak-willed.
Turner in "The Incidents"
In chapter 16, Harriet plans for her escape. In this chapter, she remembers Nat Turner, which is interesting because Turner used rebellion and murder to escape poverty, which is far from her plans. Or is Turner's ways truly different from her own? This paper argues that Linda evokes this temporality because she also has murderous intentions in her heart because of her fears for her children, but as a woman with children, she cannot pursue Turner's ways or even Douglass' ways. Her revolt is different from Turner's and Douglass', because her efforts and experiences are peculiar to women, and so in devising her escape and its consequences, she, like other women slaves, concentrate both on freedom and keeping their family intact, a manifestation of how a mother's heart can be a strong motivator to pursue a more peaceful road toward freedom.
Linda evokes this temporality because she also has murderous intentions in her heart because of her fears for her children, but as a woman with children, she cannot pursue Turner's ways or even Douglass' ways. She has murderous intentions because she also wonders how it is that white people sleep at night, after treating their slaves so badly: "That their masters sleep in safety is owing to their superabundance of heart; and yet they look upon their sufferings with less pity than they would bestow on those of a horse or a dog" (838). She cannot pursue Turner's ways, because she does not have the time or knowledge for a bloody revolution. She also thinks to survive her escape and not to die from it. In addition, she cannot pursue Douglass' ways, because her time is divided between work and her children, and so she cannot devote her remaining time to education alone. She has to find her own strategy that will also fit her needs and dreams as a woman and as a mother. As a woman, she wants to be autonomy over her body and time, and as a mother, she dreams of having more time with them, by freeing them from the shackles of slavery. She says: "My suspicions were correct. My children were to be brought to the plantation to be 'broke in'" (840). Before this happens, Harriet speeds her plan for freedom.
Black women slaves' revolt is different from Turner's and Douglass', because the former's experiences and efforts are peculiar to women slaves, and so as they devise their escape and its consequences, they focus both on freedom and keeping their family intact, a expression of how a mother's heart can be a strong motivator to follow a more peaceful road toward freedom. When Turner waged war, he does not think of the consequences for his children, for he had none. Harriet thought of his revolt, in that he might not do it his way, but she will also be free soon, like him. Also, she does not want to be free through a revolution, because she wants to survive, unlike what happened to Turner. She wants to survive for her children and she wants her children to be freed from slavery: "I knew the doom that awaited my fair baby in slavery, and I determined to save her from it, or perish in the attempt" (836). Furthermore, women slaves suffer peculiar burdens, because they endure sexual exploitation and the oppression of being both a mother and a slave. As a slave, they could not completely forget of their children, and they would do nothing more than to be with them. As a mother, they are burdened by the guilt of not providing physical and emotional security for their children, except at night, when they steal some time to be with them. Harriet then devises escape that can lead to her family's union later on. It is her family's union that gives her the most strength, because her freedom would be nothing if her children would remain as slaves.
Women slaves, who are also mothers, have their peculiar sufferings and wrongs done to them. They experience sexual exploitation and the conflicts of being mother and slave. They attend to white children, while their own children get sick or die from slavery. So when they plan for escape, they think last of themselves and more for their children's freedom, from the wretched and oppressive life of being slaves.
- Andrews William and Henry Louis Gates (Eds.). Slave Narratives. New York: Library of America, 2000.