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Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs from Perspective of Concepts of Gender and Freedom
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Harriet Ann Jacobs - Wikipedia
Flint assumes a bathetic array of often contradictory roles. At the apex of this Southern family is not one paternalistic figure, but an imbroglio of father, mother, lover, defiler, owner. Flint baffles the tidy dynamic of matriarch and patriarch with a parental hybrid. Ironically, however, he adopts a convenient androgyny when he reverts to a hieratic maternal protectorship. The donning of multiple guises exposes the concept of redemptive parentage in Southern polemic as an institutional alibi for rape.
This confused casting at the pinnacle of the Southern dynasty, as we shall discover, sends its disruptive ripples throughout the narrative, just as it did through the Flint estate of Edenton, North Carolina, and helps to skew the most fundamental oppositions. To be sure, we at first find ourselves in a world in which the polarities of feeling are marked out by the geography itself.
Jacobs & Douglass: An Insight Into The Experience of The American Slave
The codicil — read around the time Linda reaches the age of puberty — precipitates a deeper fall into the consciousness of slavery and into an awareness of its sexual plight. Douglass noted in slave language an ingrained irony which forced the slave to sing jubilantly when sad, sadly when happy — the chanter out of harmony with the chant. The average slave girl expresses her liminal status in a precocious language which belies the innocence of her appearance, in sexual innuendoes prefiguring the defilement she might soon experience in the flesh.
In urging Linda to forego flight, the Grandmother reinforces the reprobate status which the white Southern class, indeed Flint himself, legally attributes to fugitives. The deeper power of Incidents lurks in its submerged understanding of the ways in which the fugitive slave risks permanent exile from the clan and, in this case, the Grandmother who is its nurturing priestess. The psychic trauma of this rupture in the narrative approximates that caused by the white crime of child-selling, which, by tearing the black infant from the maternal breast, dismantles the family Jacobs and her grandmother cherish.
At best, Ben is ultimately absorbed into the unknown penumbra of some Northern city — at worst, he is dead. Yet the news of his final escape resounds in the text as an eerie paradox — a liberation which is also, for Linda and her Grandmother, a form of entombment — and may, as far as we know, be death for Ben himself. Just as slavery confounds the roles of owner, father, mother and seducer in the villainy of Dr. There is no such clarity when the two entities lie coiled, indistinguishable, in the same folds.
If we accept the premise that the tidy configurations of melodrama have been disturbed, then the only chance for a secular reprieve lies in a readiness to exploit the possibilities ripening in disruption itself. The oppressive shifting of distinctions I have described provides Jacobs the opportunity to exchange her status as chattel for that of African American author.
Jacobs comes close to conferring upon this vulnerable space the status of a biblical wilderness. In place of locusts, red insects burn her skin. Jacobs exerts a certain pressure on our familiar conception of enlarged space, which here takes on the claustrophobie dimensions of confinement.
Movement, in her refurbished lexicon, inevitably signifies an abdication of freedom, while the crawlspace stasis acquires a peculiar emotional mobility. The very imprisonment in attic space makes no room for lashing; a chosen stasis involves no cutting of heel strings after flight; even the exposure to sunlight is, after all, not branding. These artful negations are the nimble adjustments in a deft propaganda.
Dreams in Song of Solomon, Narrative Frederick Douglass, Life of a Slave Girl, and Push
Along with Valerie Smith, we might say that Jacobs opens, through her style, a loophole in confinement itself, suggesting to her readers how a cramped quarter is a haven from the panoramic vistas where hounds track down slaves, and where overseers beat them. Yet her bravura manipulations give it the sheen of originality. It expands from a linguistic space in which she can coax the reader toward revelation into that real locus in which she angles toward freedom, where she helps to determine the fate of her children and awaits the time to escape.
The link between writing and freedom is clarified when she sends letters from the attic that her relatives post from Northern cities. Brent toys with distance so that her master imagines that she is far when near; and she manages in her paralysis to effect his almost vaudevillian movements to destinations where she is present only in postmarks.
The collapse of distinctions can work, then, in favor of the knowing slave, not just against her. Flint, her refusal to surrender to his demands, is portrayed as yet another double bind for the slave. Within that apology, however, lies the adamant assertion that sexuality for white and black women converts the split between purity and sexual lapse into one within purity itself.
Brent emphasizes that she needed maternal counsel. Sentimental restraint forbids the lessons it should deliver and unnaturally confounds the Grandmother and Mrs. Yet even at this early point a psychic crawlspace turns to loophole: it is through her continued affair with Sands that Brent bears two children, and Sands who, despite his future vacillations, at least purchases them and her brother.
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