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Slavery is an integral component of American history. Consequently, one can never give a comprehensive account of American history without mentioning slavery. Numerous slave narratives attempt to account for the horrible experience that the blacks went through in the hands of the whites. Individuals who were once slaves have written numerous narratives detailing their experience. The primary goal of compiling the stories was to invoke opposition and assist in the fight for the abolishment of slavery. The stories helped people to have a clear picture of what it meant to be a slave.
The writers used an edifying tone with an objective of demanding equality between blacks and whites. Most narratives also tried to portray the coercion of slaves by their masters. Additionally, they portrayed the religious insincerity of the whites. Mary Prince and Frederick Douglass used different approaches to invoke sympathy from the audience and bring out the real nature of slavery. Besides, their narratives offered evidence of the deplorable conditions of slavery. The two gave an account of the brutal treatment of slaves such as inadequate housing. They also described the experience that the slaves went through due to lack of education, food and separation from family members.
Comparison of the Narratives
Prince and Douglass gave an account of how they were born from slave families and later alienated from their parents. Moreover, their stories comprise sentimental, religious, informative and violent characteristics. Both Prince and Douglass endeavored to surmount society’s discrimination against African Americans and to vitalize the fight against slavery. A distinct disparity between the narratives is that Prince narrated her ordeal from a female perspective. As a result, she emphasized emotions, domesticity, and loyalty. She vividly recounted her experience as a domestic laborer and the hardships she had to endure.
Besides, she recounted how her owners abused her. She could not give them the satisfaction that they desired. On the other hand, Douglass’ story demonstrated the influence of male superlatives like courage, education, and manliness. An analysis of the titles and subtitles of the two narratives reveals the level of literacy of the two slaves. Douglass compiled without help from his experience as a slave, which signified that he was an educated man. The narrative accentuated Douglass’ dominance over the whites. He was not different from the whites regarding astuteness and education. Douglass used his eloquence to soften the hearts of the readers and arouse pity for the individuals who were under slavery.
By Douglass writing his narrative, he managed to maintain the legitimacy of the story. On the other hand, a third-party helped Prince to compile her story. However, the author used the phrase “A West Indian Slave – Related by Herself” to win the trust of the audience. Even though Prince narrated the story, the author’s influence altered the original narration. For instance, the author omitted deliberately all experiences that could tarnish the natural image of Prince.
Even though Prince had affairs with her masters, such experiences were never included in the story (Prince and Pringle 5). The author included supportive stories and supplements as a strategy to emphasize the legitimacy of the narrative. Further, the author used the supplements to draw the attention of the white audience. Douglass also incorporated excerpts from other books to build his story. Nevertheless, he mainly focused on his story. The book covers the two stories represented the diverse characters of the narrators. Prince’s book portrayed her as a meek female victim. Prince was drawn kneeling in a beseeching and lowly position. On the other hand, Douglass’ portrayal signified intelligence and self-confidence (Douglass 51). The cover portrayed Douglass as an intelligent and brave man.
Prince and Douglass cited separation from the parents as the cruelest feature of slavery. Prince narrated how she cried uncontrollably after parting with her parents. Here, she stressed emotions. Prince claimed that she thought her “young heart would break” (Prince and Pringle 8).
She went ahead to argue that her separation from the family brought her a lot of grief. She used her narration to show how slaveholders were ruthless to even the children. Douglass also claimed that it was cruel for the masters to separate him from the parents. He contended that the slaveholders had the tendency to take away boys when they were still very young. Douglass posited, “A single word from the white men was enough… against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties to signify the ruthlessness of the masters” (64). Douglass consistently underscored the separation from family and friends to denote the pain that slaves had to endure.
Prince and Douglass addressed themselves to different audiences who expected a woman to behave differently from a man. The principal objective of the narrative and history was to rouse compassion and understanding in the audience. Prince accomplished this goal by incorporating female emotions in history.
On the other hand, Douglass achieved his goal through the use of cruel details, descriptions, and arguments. He did not drift from his manliness. Douglass stressed the significance of nobility and courage, a quality that was present in other slaves. His utterances implied that the slaveholders lacked a vein of nobility. He claimed that he could not recall one of his masters ever extending a noble act to the slaves. Douglass stated, “I do not know of one single noble act ever performed by him… the leading trait in his character was meanness” (68). In this case, he depicted the whites as hypocrites and the blacks as noble.
The narrative and history began at different stages of the life of the slaves. Douglass’ narrative did not include a gentle introduction. Prince started the story by narrating her happy beginning as a young girl. She recalled her encounters with the parents. Prince described her childhood as the happiest phase of her life. She was too young to understand the ordeals of slavery. Indeed, Prince was on good terms with Miss Betsey, who was her first mistress.
The introduction showed that slaveholders did not treat boys and girls in the same way. The girls had time with their parents during childhood. Thus, it was easy for them to recall their relationship with family members. On the other hand, boys were taken away while they were still infants. Consequently, it was hard to remember their childhood life. The narrative signifies that slaveholders valued boys. They had to take them while still very young and train them to work. Moreover, it showed that the slaveholders did not consider the rights of the slaves to carve their destiny. Douglas alleged, “The blacks were deprived of the human right of having a free will and of influencing their destiny” (67).
Douglass’s narrative began in the middle of a deplorable condition. Douglass could not tell his age. As a result, he did not have an opportunity to get an identity. Douglass did not show any sadness when he was sold to a different master, unlike Prince, who was attached to her mistress and was sad to part with them. For Douglass, the cords that connected kids to their domiciles were all detached. Douglass did not identify with any home. Additionally, he felt nothing when his mother died because he was not attached to her. Analysts claimed that there was a reason Prince opted to start her story from her childhood life while Douglass jumped to his slavery epoch (Prince and Pringle 12).
Douglass’ main concern was to bring out the negative side of slavery. Hence, he was not interested in his early life. His endeavor was to portray the cruelties and realities of slavery. On the other hand, the author of Prince’s history missed the gist of her story. Even though the author managed to bring out the cruelties and reality of slavery, he/she painted contradicting images by giving an account of Prince’s happy life with her early masters. In this case, the author tried to portray the nature of slavery. The author showed that slave life was not always gloomy. One could at times delight in being a slave.
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Douglass and Prince used awful images to portray slavery as a strategy to win the sympathy of the audience. The two addressed themselves to different audiences who expected women and men to behave differently. Thus, Prince used female emotions to articulate her history. On the other hand, Douglass used cruel realities to present his narrative.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Mineola: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.
Prince, Mary, and T. Pringle. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2000. Print.