Synopses & Reviews
This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition combines the two most important African American slave narratives into one volume.
Frederick Douglass's Narrative, first published in 1845, is an enlightening and incendiary text. Born into slavery, Douglass became the preeminent spokesman for his people during his life; his narrative is an unparalleled account of the dehumanizing effects of slavery and Douglass's own triumph over it. Like Douglass, Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery, and in 1861 she published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, now recognized as the most comprehensive antebellum slave narrative written by a woman. Jacobs's account broke the silence on the exploitation of African American female slaves, and it remains crucial reading. These narratives illuminate and inform each other. This edition includes an incisive Introduction by Kwame Anthony Appiah and extensive annotations.
Bound together in a single volume are the most famous and powerful autobiographies of a 19th-century African-American man and woman (respectively), who share their stories of triumph, of slavery, and their quest for freedom.
In his wrenching, classic autobiography--one of the most important documents in American history--Douglass describes himself as a man who became a slave and, later, a slave who became a man. Reissue.
About the Author
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches at Princeton University. His works include In My Father’s House and Cosmopolitanism.
Reading Group Guide
1. In what ways do you think the abolitionist movement speaks to or even defines the social climate described by both Douglass and Jacobs?
2. Literacy plays a key role in Frederick Douglass's journey to freedom. Discuss other factors in his emancipation. What role does violence play, for example?
3. Were the slaveholders justified in their assessment of the lives of Northern factory workers? Discuss.
4. How is Douglass's narrative affected by the omission of his actual escape? Why do you think he does this?
5. Discuss the narratives of both Douglass and Jacobs in view of conventional literary biographies. How do the recordings of their experiences differ, if at all?
6. Discuss the role of religion as described by Douglass and Jacobs. What belief systems does each embrace?
7. Is the kind of escape discussed by Douglass even possible for Jacobs? How does her gender shape her experience of slavery?
8. What is the significance of Jacobs's status as a mulatto? How does this inform her experience?
9. Do Douglass and Jacobs depict the black family as disrupted by the institution of slavery? How do families cope? Discuss.
From the Trade Paperback edition.