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Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs Narratives Research Paper


Forced labor played an important role in the American history. It affected the lives of many Blacks living in the country during that time. Some slaves managed to escapethatenabled them to write some stories based on their lives. Fredrick Douglass, for example, wrote a narrative referred to as Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass: An America Slave.

Douglass gave an account of his social-political life. For instance, he explained how his life changed through various stages of growth and development. After a certain age, Douglass stated that he managed to escape from one of the slave owners. He also explained some differences in his life, especially between his boyhood and adulthood. He elucidated that he was a young naïve person when he was forced into slavery.

Harriet Jacob is another slave who also succeeded to escape from slavery. She decided to write a narrative entitled Incidents of a Slave Girl. She described her life as full of misery because of being deprived of freedom and rights. Through her narrative, she posited that life under slavery was terrible. She explained that sexual violence and harassment were the major problemsthat she faced.

More specifically, she revealed how she used her sexuality to avoid harsh punishments from her master. In Addition, she explicated the dangers of attempting to escape from bondage. It was a criminal offence for a slave to run away from his or her master without following due process.

This was mainly because the slave was to supply free labor to slave owners (Oatis 78). Although some similarities existed, differences between the two narratives would be discussed. Through evaluation of differences, in-depth understanding of slavery is achieved.


Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs demonstrate that slavery was a form of injustice that crippled the black race in America. However, there are some differences between their works as regards to literary and political circumstances. Each writer gave a different account of political activities that went on around this time.

For Example, Douglass authored his works on Narrative of the Life of Douglass after Blacks had started demanding for their rights and freedoms. In contrast, the works of Jacob was affected by the political and historical events that went on during publication of her works.

She published her works at a time that Americans rose against each other in the Civil War. She had to convey compelling argument to gain the attention of women about suffrage. Douglass had a major influence in society because he was both a leader and a writer. His works was met with criticism from owners of the slaves, which forced him to run for his safety.

Fredrick Douglass based his ideas on the sermon. He could influence church members to reject any form of slavery because it was against God’s will. He was hired to lecture at Massachusetts Antislavery organization, whereby he developed some of styles that could enable him to attack slave owners.

He came up with rhetorical devices that were similar to sermons and proclamations and used them in formulating his narrative. Such strategies included reverberation, contrast and many classical credible tactics. His findings were based on compilation of various speeches given in church.

This means that he used biblical quotes to condemn slavery because he cited some of the famous writings from the Holy book to prove that slavery was indeed inhuman (Pyne 71). Furthermore, Douglass borrowed the ideas of Emerson, which were popular in 1840s. He combined various views to encourage his supporters to fight against slavery, which caused anguish to people.

He gave a narration in which he likened slavery to the life of a man who undergoes initiation from childhood to adulthood. Initiation signifies transformation from boyhood to maturity. In the same way, fight for freedom is like transformation from human chattel to a free citizen. According to Douglass, he analyzes his displeasure against slavery, by stating:

Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slaves represent the sorrows of his hear, and are relieved of them, only as its tears relieved an aching heart (Douglass 20)”.

Because of his personal view to slavery, he was able to relate to the vile moments of slavery to his sermons. In return, he had an opportunity to attack slavery. The sermons provided Douglass with a good opportunity to attack slavery. He used quotations from the Bible, which contradicted with the activities of slave owners, to challenge slavery.

This enlightened Christian slave owners to neglect the provisions of the slavery laws. In addition, he used the sermons in church to remind slave owners that it was against God’s Will to use or humiliate another human being by treating them as objects. It is noted that Christianity played a bigger role in abolishing slavery in the US.

Contrary to Douglass’ observation, Jacob gave her reasons against the slavery at around 1854. Such views and ideas made the author live as a renegade for about ten years. She authored her works after Cornelia Grinnell had given her a decent job.

In other words, her findings could be termed as sentimental meaning a domestic novel. The author targeted women in families, home, matrimony and womanly reticence. She had borrowed much from the previous women writers. Her works encouraged women to rise up and fight slavery as well as male patriarchy.

The issue of gender makes a big difference between the two scholars. Jacob focused on the problems encountered by women under slavery.

She argued that slave owners could demand for sexual relationships with their subjects. In this case, women were the first casualties because they could not resist. Jacob showed how society used physical qualities to discriminate some members.She claimed that no social structure was maintained by oppressing some of its members.

Conversely, the two scholars had different focuses because Douglass emphasized on struggle to achieve manhood and freedom while Jacob was much disturbed by the issue of sexual exploitation. As Jacob observed, slavery was much terrible for women as compared to men.

Women were affected most because there were no jobs for them (Shlaes 45). In society, women existed at the mercy of men. They were infringed economical and socially. They were only supposed to handle minor activities, but not to participate in major debates.

The major problem for women was male domination and societal structure, which was rigid and unbiased. Douglass did not talk much about women (Pyne 83), but was more focused on liberating the entire society from slavery. On the other hand, Jacob’s concerns were clear. She longed for liberating women from male patriarchy and domination. She cited societal structure as one of the impediments to women liberation.

Culture did not allow women to participate in active politics, neither did it encourage women to rise up and fight for their rights. Even pressure groups focused only on setting men free from slavery, not women. This implies that women were supposed to stand up and fight for their rights independently. This is reflected perfectly in the following text:

When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in everything; that I was nothing but a slave who will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half-strong (Jacob 29).

From Jacob’s narrative, it is established that she was not learned meaning that her works did not have any scholastic foundation. She could not be compared to Douglass who was educated (Shlaes 45), though very poor. Family backgrounds affected the writings of the two authors. Jacob claimed that her adventures seemed incredible because of the life she went through.

She also admitted that her descriptions fell short of acts because she was not much enlightened, unlike Douglass who was well off academically since he was offered employment as a tutor. He worked in one of the colleges that supported liberation. Educational backgrounds affected the narratives of the narrators since more education affects an individual’s orientation to the world.

In other words, learned narrators use tact in presenting his or her ideas. Douglass understood the importance of the importance of liberty hence encouraging slaves and other members of society to fight for their rights (McPherson 14).

On the other hand, Jacob urged women to raise their concerns through societal institutions, such as government, which proved to be futile. Douglass used his influence and position in the society to inform the public of the evils of slavery.


Overall, Douglass and Jacobs aimed at eliminating slavery by condemning it through written texts. They focused on the awful experiences and nature of slavery. Each of the narrators had different viewpoints as regards to slavery.

In addition, the scholars exposed injustices that infringed upon people’s rights to equality and equal opportunities. Comparison of works of the two writers reveal that differences endured by male and female slaves related to gender roles, political aspects, and societal structure.

Works Cited

Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass, an American slave. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Jacob, Harriet. Incidents in the life of a slave girl. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2007.Print.

McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Pulitzer Prize, 2003.Print.

Oatis, Steven. A Colonial Complex: South Carolina’s Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680-1730. New York: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.Print.

Pyne, Stephen. How the Canyon Became Grand. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1998.Print.

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2008.Print.

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"Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs Narratives." IvyPanda, 27 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-douglass-and-jacobs-narratives/.

1. IvyPanda. "Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs Narratives." December 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-douglass-and-jacobs-narratives/.


IvyPanda. "Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs Narratives." December 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-douglass-and-jacobs-narratives/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs Narratives." December 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/comparison-of-douglass-and-jacobs-narratives/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Comparison of Douglass and Jacobs Narratives'. 27 December.

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