The Cult of True Womanhood:
Providng a Voice to Share Experiences of the Female Slave
The reliability of the slave narrative has long been questioned. Authors such as Fredrick Douglass and William Wells Brown pioneered the slave narrative, providing insight on the gross injustices that took place while also unintentionally muffling the voice of black women. Male authority is not questioned nearly enough in historical writing and works deemed literature. Often this male insight silences or poorly depicts the female experience and perspective of the time; because Narrative of the Life of a Slave Girl is the first female account of its kind, readers question Jacobs authority to speak on the topic. Under the false name of Linda Brent, Harriet Jacobs and Lydia Maria Child worked together to provide Narrative of the Life of a Slave Girl with the strong backbone that was necessary to stand against the scorn of its readers (northern white women). Lydia Child, a northern woman with values represented by the culture of domesticity, verifies the reliability of Harriet Jacobs testimony. During the 1800’s, the only way in which a woman (specifically a former slave) would have writings published would be to have it endorsed by a white woman from the north. Lydia Child provides Harriet Jacobs with the ethos she needs to tell her story.
The introduction and preface to Narrative of the Life of a Slave Girl expand my understanding because it was written with women in mind. Jacobs and Child are keenly aware that their audience is northern women; they hoped that northern women would be able to use their sphere of influence to evoke a passion for ending slavery in the hearts of men with power- their husbands. Jacobs uses powerful diction to reveal the cruelties of southern slave owners. When recalling an event that she witnessed, Jacobs appeals to the values of motherhood to make northern women feel the pain of mulatto children and young slave girls desiring motherhood. This direct emotional appeal was intended to create a shared identity of motherhood. This appeal would resonate with the northern women of the time because they valued motherhood as part of their culture of domesticity (the cult of true womanhood). Family values bond the hearts of northern women with oppressed slaves. The issue of slavery becomes something relevant to their lives and thus become something that must be abolished.
The introduction by Jacobs provides the reader with a clear purpose for the piece, creating the context for why the narrative was published so long after Harriet Jacobs found freedom in the north. While reading Narrative of the Life of a Slave Girl, readers become less likely to question its reliability and authenticity. Without the introduction, readers may have been more inclined to believe that parts of Jacobs narrative were fabricated truths and exaggerated to evoke a sense of pity from readers. When Jacobs describes in great detail the cruelties that she has experienced, it is hard to doubt her; readers are unable to question her experience. Jacobs writing is crafted in a way that does not expose anyone. Instead of exposing a particular person, Jacobs has instead exposed only injustice. She does not ask for sympathy or maliciously seek to destroy those who have wronged her; Jacobs reveals brutal truths seeking only the acknowledgment of them. This again benefits the readers of the time. Norhtern women would be more likely to share the narrative with their husbands because of the vague identities. Readers would hate the crime that is slavery, instead of specific slave owners.