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The Mistreatment of Slaves in the 19th Century

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The Mistreatment of Slaves in the 19th Century

Harriet A. Jacobs and William Wells Brown share their brutal stories of growing up and becoming slaves in the 19th century, depicted through their narratives. The narratives exemplify two different stories portrayed from contrasting individuals that were both abused ruthlessly by white slave owners. Although one narrative is from a man's perspective and the other from a women's, it is evident that there are many differences and similarities between the two stories. We can identify them buy the different literary elements represented such as metaphors, allusion, similes and oxymoron's, due to the common theme of mistreatment, abuse and dehumanization of slaves.

It is said that to have been that the harsh and brutal conditions slaves lived under were outrageous and wrong. However, men were treated a little differently than women. Owners of slaves provided clothes for male and female slave children and as they got older they began to make distinctions between males and females. An excerpt from an online encyclopedia states,

"At this time slave girls either were trained to do nonagricultural labor in domestic settings or joined their elders in the fields. Boys went to the fields or were trained for artisan positions, depending on the size of the plantation. House servants spent time tending to the needs of their plantation mistresses--dressing them, combing their hair, sewing their clothing or blankets, nursing their infants, and preparing their meals. They were on call twenty-four hours a day and spent a great deal of time on their feet" (Ramey).

Female slaves usually had very rough childhoods because they were physically, sexually and emotionally abused by their masters. This eventually led to intimate relationships with white men. Many women that were forced to do so sometimes ended up becoming pregnant with a white man's child. Black women did not have a choice. They were forced to do as they were told. Although many slave owners mistreated their slaves brutally, there were the rare slave owners that did not mistreat or abuse their slaves. Instead they were mistreated to an extent, which was not considered as harsh of that time. However if this was the case, slaves were forbidden to obtain any rights or legal rights of their own. For example, slaves lacked education and were not supposed to be educated at all. Slave owners did not want their slaves to be educated. They did not want them to gain knowledge of anything and only wanted them to think that they were to live one life as property rather than being free. As a result, some slaves began to seek out ways to educate themselves. In order to do so some resorted to escaping and then becoming educated, or secretly gaining knowledge while living on the plantations. Depending on the slave's relationship with the slaveholders, there was a better chance that a slaveholder secretly educated a slave. The majority of the mistreatments are accurately portrayed in both narratives.

A major subject that comes from the theme of mistreatment of slaves is the concept of dehumanization. Dehumanization played a vital part in 19th century African-American slavery. The white race of this time demoralized and treated African-American's as animals. Abused and degraded, salves would be called horrible names and be compared to the animals on the plantations. Whites believed that slave's had no emotional feelings and did not deserve to be treated with the same respect as them. They believed their lives had no purpose but to work under the authority of masters and do as they are told. A passage from a book explains, " During slavery, white people did everything possible to dehumanize, demoralize and degrade African Americans. White society systematically tried to destroy any vestige of the language, culture, spirituality, religion, and family structure of the slave community" (Kivel 42). It is evident that because African-Americans were of a different race and class, they were considered to be beneath the white race and taken into work to be told what to do under the authority of their masters.

Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs describes Linda (as the pseudonym for the author) being brought up as a slave but completely unaware of it, due to her parents not telling her and not being educated as a child. As she gets older she then realizes that she is in fact, considered property of her master Dr. Flint, and is in fact a slave. "When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong" (Jacobs 18). Dr. Flint makes it clear to Linda that she is his slave and will obey him no matter what. The theme of abuse is depicted between Linda and Dr. Flint's relationship. Dr. Flint is considered to be a slave owner who shows no sympathy towards his slaves and thrives for the absolute power

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