The Black Woman’s Slave Narrative
Darrell Donnell Darrisaw
Henry L. Gates, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 1987 D225
vi, 90 leaves; 29 cm.
This is a study of the Black woman's slave narrative. It focuses on three narratives that were written by Black women before 1865 and that show the Black slave woman's experience as she described it to her amanuensis. The purpose of this study is to show how Black slave women described their experiences. The following are the three narratives included in this study: Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Herself, with Maria Child as editor; Louisa Picquet's The Octoroon: A Tale of Southern Slave Life, with Hiram Mattison as editor; and Mary Prince's The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. Related by herself... To Which is added, the narrative of Asa-Asa, a captured African, with Thomas Pringle as editor.
Although "the conditions under which a number of early Black autobiographies were written make the goal of distinguishing between first- and third person genres... problematic," the narratives in this study were selected based on statements made by the amanuensis editor at the beginning of each text. Moreover, each editor or commentator, in his or her statement, verifies the authenticity of the text. Each vows that the wording has not been changed.
Indeed, the experiences of these women, the yokes they bore as they lived their lives in bondage, and the thoughtful and vivid language they used to express their experiences, give these narratives their distinction. This study analyzes "gift themes," themes "given" to the reader by the narratives. To understand "gift themes," a "relationship" between the narrative and the reader must exist. This "relationship" is one whereby the narrative "speaks" to the reader, as he or she reads it. Ideally, to receive the "gift theme," the reader must let the narrative "speak." Each narrative carries themes to the reader without the reader having to decipher particular themes from them. Letting the narratives "speak" allows one not only to see the similarities between these Black slave women's experiences, but also their differences. Understanding these similarities and differences allows the reader to experience the powerful force of the language these women used in explaining their plight.