Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Slave Marriage and the Narratives of Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft

Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Slave Marriage and the Narratives of Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft

Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Slave Marriage and the Narratives of Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft

Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Slave Marriage and the Narratives of Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft

Synopsis

The African American slave narrative is popularly viewed as the story of a lone male's flight from slavery to freedom, best exemplified by the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845). But in stressing Douglass's narrative as a model for the genre, scholars have ignored the formal and thematic importance of marriage and family in the slave narrative. This book examines the central role of marriage in The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave (1849) and Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860). In doing so, the volume points to the influence of those narratives on the later fiction of Douglass, William Wells Brown, and Martin Delany, and invites a reexamination of current assumptions about slave narratives.

Excerpt

In the past thirty years, the slave narrative has moved from the margins to a much more central place in the study of African American and American literature and culture. This new attention is only the most recent phase in a history of reception that has gone from popular attention in the ante-bellum period, to marginalization in the decades after the Civil War, to the contemporary increase in study. Though slave narratives form an extremely heterogeneous genre, current scholarship has designated Frederick Douglass’ 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave; Written by Himself as the touchstone for evaluating the thematic and narrative conventions of other works in the genre. The focus on Douglass has had initial benefits in making the genre recognizable and in placing his Narrative in the American and African American literary canons. However, it has also led to a lack of appreciation for other slave narratives with themes and narrative strategies different from those of Douglass.

In reaction to the emphasis on Douglass, feminist scholars began to explore Harriet Jacobs’ 1861 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Written by Herself because of its differences from Douglass’ Narrative and especially because of its possibilities as a standard for the female slave narrative. Al-

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