Pride and Perseverance
African-American Literature consists of numerous themes or characteristics. Each story, poem, or slave narrative can be linked to an oppressive time, when the major character of each piece tried to overcome such hardships. Taking this into consideration, the two characteristics I chose to explore in our assignment are struggle and pride. In many of our readings we were exposed to characters that were dealing with difficulties in their life. However, their perseverance and pride allowed them to overcome the obstacles they fought in daily life. The slave narratives show us an in-depth illustration of pride helping to overcome one’s struggle. For years and years we have heard stories about slavery and they are usually all negative, but in excerpts from “To My Old Master,” “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” and “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” each of these slaves overcame their struggle and came out on top.
In “To My Old Master” it does seem as if Jourdon Anderson feels as if he owes his master something, but his instinct is not to go back. “I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters (Young 16).” He and his family have made a better life for themselves. Jourdon has moved his family to another area of the country, his children are in school, his wife is involved with church and he has a decent job.
In the memoir “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Harriet Jacobs has also escaped her life as a slave. Harriet Jacobs is living her life in a small shed off of her Grandmothers house. Although Harriet has escaped her life as a slave and her abusive slave master, her living conditions still sound grim. The shed is barely large enough for her to move around in, and the only air she gets is from a small hole in the roof of the shed. “I heard the voices of my children, there was joy and there was sadness in the sound. How I longed to speak to them! I was eager to look at their faces; but there was no hole or crack through which I could peep. The continued darkness was oppressive. It seemed horrible to sit or lie in a cramped position day after day, without one gleam of light. Yet I chose this rather than my lot as a slave.” (Young 18.) Harriet was smart though; she knew that even though her master had traveled as far as New York in search of her the last place he would look would be right on her families own property.
In “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” the accounts with slavery had to be the worst of all three narratives I read. During Frederick’s life under Mr. Covey, he was beaten many times. “Mr. Covey had acquired a very high reputation for breaking young slaves, and this reputation was of immense value to him. It enabled him to get his farm tilled with much less expense to himself than he could have had it done without such a reputation. Some slaveholders thought it not much loss to allow Mr. Covey to have their slaves one year, for the sake of the training to which they were subjected, without any other compensation (Douglass).” However,
Frederick did not give up. He tried to get help from his master but did not succeed so he finally figured out that he had to stand up for himself. Standing up for himself could have gotten Frederick killed but instead it turned his life as a slave around. “This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free. The gratification afforded by the triumph was a full compensation for whatever else might follow, even death itself.” (Young 25) Frederick remained a slave for four years after his battle with Covey, and although he had several fights, he was never severely whipped again.
While reading these narratives, especially the last one, it made me think about slavery and the struggle these people had to go through. It is hard for me to grasp the idea of being enslaved to someone else, or being severely beaten for not doing as one is told, or having to give oneself up to a man any time he pleases. I must say that the characters in these stories exemplify great courage in dealing with the struggles they experience not only within themselves, but also in the outside world around them. It seems as if each of these characters always came out on top, too. Their pride helped them overcome each of the trials and tribulations that they had to endure in order to make a better life for themselves.