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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   



7. Slavery and
Freedom


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Lorenzo
Asisara
- Lydia Maria
Child
- William & Ellen Craft
- Frederick
Douglass
- Briton Hammon
- Helen Hunt
Jackson
- Harriet Jacobs
- Abraham Lincoln
- Sorrow Songs
- Harriet Beecher
Stowe
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Helen Hunt Jackson
Women writers who worked within the nineteenth-century tradition of sentimentality and domesticity, Child, Stowe, and Jackson were enormously successful in reaching female audiences and convincing them to support various kinds of social reform. Their effectiveness stemmed from a willingness to make overt appeals to their readers' emotional investments in the sanctity of home and family. While Child was more radical than either Stowe or Jackson (she supported the very controversial causes of women's suffrage, penal reform, and interracial marriage), she shared with them a tendency to rely on racist stereotypes in constructing her sentimental plots. Jackson worked later in the century than Child and Stowe--her efforts were focused exclusively on helping oppressed Native Americans in California--but she employed the same literary conventions. In fact, she consciously modeled Ramona on Uncle Tom's Cabin, hoping to "do one-hundredth part for the Indian as Mrs. Stowe did for the Negro."

Abraham Lincoln and Sorrow Songs
Lincoln's speeches and the Sorrow Songs developed by African Americans are the products of very different cultural formations and rhetorical traditions, yet both were intended for oral delivery. As spoken and sung texts, these works find their power in strategic repetition and in resonant imagery that is often drawn from the Bible. Lincoln's speeches and the Sorrow Songs make an interesting contrast because while the Sorrow Songs are the result of communal authorship and are constantly changing and evolving through improvisation, Lincoln's words are associated with his iconic persona and are unchanging (many of them, in fact, have actually been carved in stone).

Briton Hammon and Lorenzo Asisara
Hammon's and Asisara's texts are both rather enigmatic since literary critics and historians know so little about the conditions and details of these men's lives. They are included in this module because their accounts touch so centrally on the issue of slavery, but neither manifests much self-consciousness about his own enslavement or the social institutions that oppress him. Both texts, too, are troubled by questions about their authorship and authenticity. Critics have debated whether Hammon composed his Narrative entirely on his own or whether he employed a white editor to write all or part of it. Asisara narrated his story to field historian Thomas Savage, who then wrote it up in its current form. Thus, readers have no direct access to Asisara's original words and must read his history through the mediation of his editor.

William Craft, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs
Craft, Douglass, and Jacobs all wrote within the popular nineteenth-century genre of the slave narrative. Tracing their literal and emotional journeys from slavery to freedom, these writers explore issues of self-determination and the formation of identity. Authors of slave narratives were primarily concerned with gaining adherents to abolitionism by convincing white audiences of their intelligence and humanity--and, by extension, the intelligence and humanity of all African Americans held in slavery. Craft, Douglass, and Jacobs all detail the degradations and abuses they suffered while enslaved, although these sufferings encompass very different experiences for each writer. Craft deals more thoroughly with the details of his escape than do Douglass and Jacobs, who were perhaps more concerned that offering too many details might lead to their being recaptured. Craft's narrative is also different in that it covers the escape of himself and his wife--their story is that of a couple rather than an individual--and addresses issues of racial passing. Jacobs's narrative makes an effective contrast to the narratives of Craft and Douglass because she offers a woman's perspective and is fundamentally concerned with the particular plight of female slaves.



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