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Sojourner truth was born in 1800’s America, one of the darkest period in human history characterized by slave trade and gross mistreatment of the black race. She and her parents as well as the other slaves were subject of untold torture from their masters. She was the daughter of slaves owned by Colonel Ardinburgh, of Ulster County, New York.
The manner in which the slaves were treated can be told by the way she was sold together with a flock of sheep after the colonel died, to her new owner John Nealy, ruthless master. Truth would not stand his ruthlessness such that it is a relief when a fisherman buys her from Nealy and out of her misery.
Her new master eventually sold her to Scriver a master who he later claims in her work to be so human that she worked diligently for in appreciation. Towards the last year of her servitude at John Dumont she escapes to stay with Isaac van Wagenen after he refuses to sell release her. Eventually Van Wagenen pays off Dumont for Sojourner’s freedom. She thus becomes Isabella van Wagenen She goes to New York to work as a house servant after fighting successfully to have her son release from state slavery.
However she couldn’t stand the second Sodom (New York) and thus left on her pilgrimage to preach top the world about the existence of the spirit of Jesus Christ and espouse the virtues of truth integrity and honesty to any one who cared to listen. She eventually got her story after she joins Northampton Association, its proceeds from which she manages to buy her own house and live in comfortably until her demise (Hutchins, 2004).
Despite the fact that the reader initially sees the ugly hand of the slavery, Isabella lived and wrote her works when the civil rights and liberties movements had stated to take root in the American society. There were organized revolted by the slaves who objected to inhuman treatment by both their masters and the state.
They were treated as property and brutally punished for any perceived misdemeanor (Religious Tolerance, 2006). Eventually through the works of Isabella as well as other human rights activists, the slaves were guaranteed freedom and liberty.
One of the biggest talking points in this story is the power of faith and religion as the only source of solace to the oppressed. The slaves have gone through so much that Isabella concludes in her preaching’s that the tribulations she faced as a slave actually prepared her to face the hardships in this world that she compared to hell.
Her mother’s enviable reverence to God reflected the faith and hope as the only thing that could emancipate them from the bondage of slavery. The story is also a reflection of one of the biggest denial of individual liberties and violations of not only human rights but physical bodies. Slaves were treated as property and would be sold off to willing buyers at a negotiated prices.
What is more appalling is the fact that the masters had the power to decide which slave married whom and even annul marriages by slaves. It is not the physical torture that inflicted pain but the moral and social mistreatment. The masters did not even deem it fit for slaves to receive religious instruction and to observe some religious practices. It is such mistreatment that leads Isabella to question whether God really exists and if He does hear the cry of the slaves.
However she is emancipated from this thought and converts to Christianity and becomes a renowned preacher and public speaker. This story is not all grim and sad but an inspiration a motivation towards emancipation of the individual from the shackles of historical injustices amidst the struggles. Truth is the reflection of this self-proclaimed freedom.
She has had gone through many trails and temptations but eventually triumphed. This journey though cannot be accomplished if a person is distant from God. Truth managed to make her sojourn because she was motivated from her from the spiritual enlightenment that she got from fasting, as taught by Mr. Pierson. Most importantly, the book emphasizes the power of the woman in the society.
A woman is the most significant of symbol of care and longevity of the family unit in the society. Isabella as well as her mother are two women in this story who model this. She fights for the release of her enslaved son while her mother always teaches her children the good virtues of worship, making them stronger even in the hardest of times. Thus, a woman even though rejected in many quotas including the church is the glue that holds the society together (Hutchins, 2004; Truth, 1850).
This essay thus purposes to highlight the experiences of the Africana woman as a nurturer, caregiver figure whose strength and determination is the basis of a sustainable society.
The indispensable place of the woman in the society
The story is not merely a feminist work but a work that portrays the Africana Womanism concept. Africana Womanism is not a feminist theory but a consideration of the experiences of the Africana people as strugglers in this world. Africana Womanism does, unlike other feminism theories, embrace and recognize the place of a man in the society and equates man to woman. The two are codependent strugglers and workers who must coexist harmoniously.
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Women are the leaders in society and should lead the struggle to reconstruct and regain a society inflicted by so many evils (Reed, 2001). Thus, Africana Womanism is not centred on the woman interests but on the family and society, and portrays the woman as the glue that holds these together. She loves children, appreciates and respects men as copartners bringing up a healthy society.
Sojourner Truth is the reflection of this Africana woman whom never gives up even when it seems impossible to go on (Truth, 1850). According to Hudson-Weems (1998), the strength Africana woman is drawn from her abilities to give herself a defined identity. This is the realization of an inner emancipation and freedom.
When Isabella decides to make her pilgrimage, she realizes that she cannot do it unless she changes her name as well as her identify. Thus she drops the name Isabella van Wagenen and adapts to Sojourner Truth, an identify changes that has a spiritual inspiration as a woman who carries the truth. She thus journeys to the east devotes her life to preaching and inspiring the oppressed by urging them to turn to God an seek solace.
This self-identification is however not self centred but inspired by the multiple roles the woman plays in the society as a leader, nurturer, spiritual counselor and caregiver. Her new identity is not intended for her won personal gains but to benefit the society. It is not a feminist identify but an identify focused on the family and society. Her new name thus describes her intention to liberate the society from the social evils in it.
Thus, a redefined woman becomes a caregiver a mother and nurturer not only to her children but also to the whole society. She feeds it with food for the stomach as well for the soul and spirit. Her public meetings and forums are her ways to nurture the society in the right way by instilling in it the virtues of good while discouraging the bad.
Truth is not ignorant of the fact that the society also needs human care. In the course of her journey, she comes across a family that is in need of care. She offers her labor to the family but refuses monetary compensation. In this way, she shows her willingness not only to nature the society spiritually but also physically (Aldridge and Wheeler 2001; Hudson-Weems, 1998; Truth, 1850). Isabella’s description to Gilbert of the role she plays as a mother to her five children leaves the reader overawed.
She was a proud mother of five children whom she cared for with utmost love. So good was she a mother that the one of her masters would allow her time to tender her children. She espoused in her children the virtues of honesty, truthfulness and integrity and also never allowed any cheating or stealing and would rather her children go hungry than steal bread from her master to feed them (Truth, 1850).
As explained earlier, this story looks beyond the sexist feminist ideas propagated by other feminist theories. It is about women who stand for what is right and beneficial to the entire society and not just for themselves. It can be related to the film “Amazing Grace” a moving story about a selfless British anti slavery activist and reformer William Wilberforce who not only furiously fought for the rights of the British slaves but their emancipation.
The movie, like the story of Sojourner Truth, is a depiction of people that are willing to sacrifice and stand up for what is right. Wilberforce like Isabella has a strong personality and oratory skills that he utilizes effectively to speak about the social injustices prevalent in the 18th century England (Dargis, 2007).
The two genres portray a society that is devoid of virtuous leadership in government and thus needs strong individuals who are flexible enough to offer their service to the societies as well as lead the search fro equality. Wilberforce does not get any support other than from his fiancé and later wife (Dargis, 2007). Isabella is alone in her journey and receives little help apart from a few lawyers who helped fight for her sons release.
Her story portrays a woman who is strong not only in physically but also inward. Truth makes her journey on foot with meager requirements and seeks refuge from the poor from whom she finds ready help (the rich always had an excuse despite being in a position to) (truth 1850). Her role as a care giver requires a lot of physical strength. She wouldn’t have afforded to strap her children and work in her masters plantations had she been a physically weak woman (Hudson-Weems 1998; truth 1850).
The Africana woman is a person full of virtuous character, drawn from her spiritual energy to nature the family and society. Thus, faith in God becomes paramount. Truth, is a religious figures and have an unshakeable faith in Jesus as the only savior; a character and notion she inherited from her mother (who mused to instill I them the virtues of diligence honesty and integrity) and reinforced by Mr. Peterson (Hudson-Weems, 1998).
She carries the same spirit and teaches her own children the same teachings she got from her mother. Her strengthen in character is also seen when she decides to flee from the ‘sodomy” of new York (Truth 1850). Through Isabella van Wagenen the reader sis thus able to see that for the Africana woman is not a sexist feminist but a person who carries the whole society on her back and would not rest until it is liberated.
Many a reader would confuse the story as a feminist idea whose intention is to portray the strength of a woman and her efforts to dominate the man in the society. This is far from the truth as Hudson-Weems, (1998) explains, the story is a portrayal of the woman as a symbol of the society emancipation not only from slavitude but also other social injustices.
Africana Womanism celebrates the woman without intimidating the man like other feminist views. The woman is the principle caregiver and nurturer to the society and the family. She is the source of strength both physically and spiritually, and as such indispensable.
Aldridge, D., & Wheeler, B. (2001). Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves. CBS interactive. Web.
Dargis, M. (2007). Movie Review: Amazing Grace (2006) – The imperfect soul who helped bring an end to the slave trade. The New York Times. Web.
Hudson-Weems, C. (1998). Africana Womanism: Reclaiming ourselves. Troy, MI: Bedford Publishing
Hutchins, Z. (2004). Summary: Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828. Web.
Reed, P. (2001). Africana womanism and African feminism: A philosophical, literary, and cosmological dialectic on family. CBS interactive. Web.
Religious Tolerance (2006). A brief history of the “peculiar institution” of slavery 16th-18th centuries, in North America & Britain. Web.
Truth, S. (1850). Narrative of sojourner truth, a northern slave, emancipated from bodily servitude by the state of New York, in 1828. Boston: J. B. Yerrinton And Son, Printers. Web.