Here are three points to guide our discussion and an assignment:
- Slave narratives begin as conversion stories (from about 1770 to 1820), but become arguments against slavery from about 1820 to 1865. Following the Civil War, the focus of the narratives shifted again, toward recovery from and personal development after slavery. Finally, during the Great Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project collected the narratives of African Americans who had survived slavery.
- According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in Classic Slave Narratives, “In this process of imitation and repetition, the black slave’s narrative came to be a communal utterance, a collective tale, rather than merely an individual’s autobiography. Each slave author, in writing about his or her personal life’s experiences, simultaneously wrote on behalf of millions of silent slaves still held captive . . . All blacks would be judged–on their character, integrity, intelligence, manners and morals and the claim to warrant emancipation–on this published evidence produced by one of their number.”
- Dr. Donna Campbell at Washington State University usefully presents the characteristics of slave narratives found in James Olney’s “‘I was born’: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature.”
How might you argue for other characteristics, based on what we’ve read in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?