Comparing Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Our Time

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Soul Writing in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Our Time

Real writing, soul writing is dangerous; there is an intrinsic, gut-churning element of risk within the process of telling the truth, a risk that yields an adrenaline rush that parallels skydiving and skinny-dipping. The thrill of one's own truth displayed nakedly in little black letters on a white page is scary and beautiful, both chaining and freeing. The issue for authors, like skydivers, is that after they jump out of the plane (start writing) the fears don't disappear. The diver-author asks herself, "Should I really be doing this... What if my parachute doesn't work... What if I'm misunderstood?" Harriet Jacobs and John Edgar Wideman undergo this free-fall,
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She needs to make it clear that she wasn't weak but just lacked any other option because, while it seems so clear to us as readers in the 1990s, the same assumptions would probably not have been made in the 1800s. But Jacobs is not only making this point clear to the reader; she is making it clear to herself. In writing her story, Jacobs comes to terms with herself.

Wideman similarly employs the use of the question. While struggling with the issue of telling his brother's story without making it his own, he asks the reader a string of questions: "And if I did learn to listen, wouldn't there be a point at which I'd have to take over the telling? Wasn't there something fundamental in my writing, in my capacity to function, that depended on flight, on escape? Wasn't another person's skin a hiding place, a place to work out anxiety, to face threats too intimidating to handle in any other fashion? Wasn't writing about people a way of exploiting them?"(722). Wideman, uncomfortable with his relationship between his brother, the text, and himself, makes his plight obvious in order to receive affirmation from the reader who is forced to ask herself what she would do. The question, in this case, is an extremely effective rhetorical device because the answer, being obviously split, makes the reader feel the same dichotomy with which the writer struggles. The bombardment of questions delivers the reader into a state of
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