Selfdom in Slavedom: Gustavus Vassa

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From Africa, to Barbados, to Virginia, to a ship that travels the British Empire, if a steady location were the basis of identity, Olaudah Equiano would surely have none. However, he still develops a specific identity throughout his narrative, a striking task as he is ripped away from the family and culture he is born into and then never remains in one place for too long. In contrast to this, Harriet Jacobs develops an identity based largely on the family and community that surround her. Jacobs and her contemporary, Fredrick Douglass, also are influenced by the diverse and bustling cities that develop after American independence. This difference that develops from Equiano’s time of the 18th century to Jacob’s and Douglass’s 19th century is…show more content…
Instead, he spends his enslaved life travelling and working on a ship and after he buys his freedom he travels even more. This is largely due to the economic conditions discussed before: an emphasis on international slave-trade is combined with the high death rates of the West Indian slaves, cutting down their opportunities to create a more permanent and settled life. On the other hand, Jacobs is born into slavery and raised by her grandmother. We see influences of her family throughout her life, from “looking up to [her grandmother] with a respect bordering upon awe” to relying on her brother, William, while she waits in the attic to desperately searching for just a view of her children to remind her why she must gain her freedom. Economic developments of the South that led to the reliance on slavery in general and reproduction to further the institution, in contrast to slavery of the 18th century, allowed women like Jacobs to have such strong identities. However, another aspect to take into account is the audience of Jacobs’s story: white Northerners, especially women. Jacobs, who wrote this narrative after she was freed and at the beginning of the Civil War, uses familial values and experiences, which women hold in common, in order to relate her story to women in the North who could support the abolitionist movement. The growth of cities is another major

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