Contrast Mary Prince's Narrative With That of Olaudah Equiano How Does Gender Affect These Narratives Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1881 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

Black Studies

Gender in Slave Narratives

This paper analyzes two slave narratives, "The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave" by Mary Prince, and "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African" by Olaudah Equiano. Specifically, it discusses how gender affects these narratives.

Both of these narratives are autobiographies of slaves who lived and toiled in the West Indies. They contain many similarities, but there are many differences too, and many of them are based on the slave's gender. Female slaves had different duties and responsibilities than male slaves, and they had different opportunities. Both these narratives are difficult to read, but reading them it is easy to see which is written by a man and which by a woman. Gender affects the writing style, the outlook, and the ultimate expectations of each slave, as well as their working conditions and lifestyles.Download full
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Contrast Mary Prince's Narrative With That of Olaudah Equiano How Does Gender Affect These Narratives Assignment

One of the main things that separate these two slaves is their education and ability to gain an education. While most slaves were not educated, it was even rarer for female slaves to be educated, and these two narratives clearly illustrate this point. Prince has little education, and what she does have came from a kindly child in one of the families she served. She notes, "Directly she had said her lessons to her grandmamma, she used to come running to me, and make me repeat them one by one after her; and in a few months I was able not only to say my letters but to spell many small words. But this happy state was not to last long" (Prince 28). She may have been bright and able to learn, but that did not make a difference. In contrast, Equiano's master recognized his potential and helped him learn. Because of his early experiences, Equiano has learned to read, write, and even do some light arithmetic, and so, he has many more opportunities to better himself. He becomes a clerk, and eventually saves enough money to buy his freedom, which Prince can never do. Women were not as educated as men were in the 18th century, and surely black women were far less educated than black men who managed to get an education. This separated them even further, and gave women far less opportunity to advance themselves and eventually buy their freedom.

Another one of the differences between male and female slaves in the narratives is the jobs they do and what is expected of them. Mary Prince worked mainly in the house, serving her masters, rather than in the fields as a field hand. In her younger years, she acts as a companion and babysitter to younger children, something that never would have been considered as work for a male slave. In connection with Prince's taking care of the children, she became quite attached to them, and they to her. She writes of the parting with her second family, "Dear Miss Fanny! how she cried at parting with me, whilst I kissed and hugged the baby, thinking I should never see him again" (Prince 29). This was much more common with the female slaves who the family took in and interacted with adults and children. If the family treated them kindly, they often grew deep bonds with the family, and it was hard for them to leave, just as it was hard for them to be torn from their loved ones and sold to different masters.

While Equiano also made friends with young people and followed his master at his master's whim when he was a boy, his experiences were different. He served one master, and the master treated him more like a pet than a slave. He played with other children, he made lifelong friends, and he began to learn the ways of the seas. Already, the difference between the two children is striking. Equiano has not really seen any hard labor or punishment, and has not really lived the life of a slave as most do, while Prince has already been torn from two families and her mother, and worked hard from a very young age. Equiano's experience is not typical, but had he been a female, he probably would not have had the experience at all.

As the slaves grow older, so do their duties and their differences. Prince is sold to a cruel household where she has to do both inside and outside duties such as cooking, farming, cleaning, washing, and nearly all the tasks of a busy household. She is often beaten and punished for the least trivial problem. She states, "There was no end to my toils -- no end to my blows. I lay down at night and rose up in the morning in fear and sorrow; and often wished that like poor Hetty I could escape from this cruel bondage and be at rest in the grave" (Prince 35). Her toils continue throughout her life, and as of the telling of her narrative, she never gained the freedom she longed for.

Equiano's duties were far different - because he was a male. He learned the ways of ships, and fought beside his master in the French-Indian wars in Canada and in other skirmishes. He writes, "I had been learning many of the maneuvers of the ship during our cruise; and I was several times made to fire the guns" (Equiano 67). Prince, because of her sex and her cruel masters, would never have been trusted with firearms or with such a responsible job. She did not have the opportunities Equiano did, and much of that was because of her sex. Through this all, Equiano's master treats him much kinder than Prince could have ever hoped to be treated. Equiano has little of the negative experience Prince does, until his master sells him. In fact, Equiano, because of his early experiences, was not as strong as Prince was, as he readily admits after he is sold to a new master in the West Indies. He writes, "I was so bowed down with grief that I could not hold up my head for many months; and if my new master had not been kind to me I believe I should have died under it at last" (Equiano 86). Because of his education, Equiano becomes a clerk, and never faces many of the hardships and humiliations that slaves such as Prince faced on a daily basis. Their experiences are far different because of their gender and because of the opportunities that each of them had or did not have.

There is another difference between these narratives that is solely based on gender. Prince only hints at it in her narrative when she speaks of her masters abusing some of the female slaves. Equiano speaks of it more freely when he notes, "When we have had some of these slaves on board my master's vessels to carry them to other islands, or to America, I have known our mates to commit these acts most shamefully, to the disgrace, [...] I have even known them gratify their brutal passion with females not ten years old" (Equiano 89). Female slaves were at the mercy of their masters and the men around them, and many of them were sexually abused, and often. Males did not face as much of this abuse; theirs was more physical, such as beatings and whippings. This is a great difference in how women viewed their masters and how men viewed their masters. Both genders feared punishment, but women had an additional fear - rape and abuse, and this certainly colored their lives and their memories of their lives as slaves. In Prince's narrative, the reader is always hoping that Mary is not sexually abused, raped, or made pregnant by her evil masters, and in Equiano's narrative, of course, this is not a consideration at all - even when he is surrounded only my male sailors at sea. The two genders had far different experiences in this area.

While gender creates many differences in these narratives, there are also many similarities. Both Prince and Equiano suffered as slaves, and they wrote their narratives to show the inhumanity of slavery and urge Great Britain to outlaw the practice. Prince emotionally says, "I know what a slave knows; and I would have all the good people in England to know it too, that they may break our chains, and set us free" (Prince 40). After he buys his freedom, Equiano travels to Great Britain to fight against slavery. He published his narrative to make money, but also to show the inhumane conditions of the slaves in the West Indies, just as Prince did. The difference in their situations of course, is that Equiano died a free man who amassed quite a fortune, while Prince did not. She did not have the same opportunities that Equiano did because of her situation and her sex.

Even the style of the narratives is different because of gender. Both are… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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