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Corrupting Cycle

First of all, should we refer to the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl as Harriet Jacobs or Linda Brent? Or does it matter if we interchange the two?

Second of all, slavery is a corrupting institution, as I’m sure everyone already agrees.  In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs/Linda Brent illustrates the effects and the influences on everyone involved in the existence of slavery (which is pretty much everyone) as a muddled atmosphere of corruption and evil within she is trapped.  Up until about 50 pages into the book, it seemed to me as though she was holding the male white slaveholder accountable for most of the woes of slavery seeing as she perceives this figure to be the embodiment of most social evil at that time, or at least that’s how I’m perceiving it.  Also, she points to the black female slave to equate the most victimized (while the male black slave, family of the slaveholder, and children born of the slave mother and slaveholder father etc are also victimized in various ways that she explains) many times throughout the account.  It was not up until the point on p. 44 where she declares, “Had it not been for slavery, he would have been a better man, and his wife a happier woman,” that I realized it is not her perception (and hatred) of the male white slaveholder that constitutes her reasoning for the corrupt society plagued by slavery, rather than it is slavery being a cause too.  That is to say that the institution and the previously mentioned embodiment reify each other.  This refers to the influences slavery has on its inhabitants and light is shed on the ongoing, despondent cycle of slavery for Jacobs/Brent in the following quote:

“[Slavery] makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.  And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation.”

This is where I propose the reification comes into play because all of these people are negatively affected by slavery so they rebound off of it with evil intentions and degrading morality which ends up putting more corruption back into the system; this continues for some generations of all races as a result.  I think the institution of slavery is the main origin of all of this nonsense, with its afflicted inhabitants that fail to break the destructive cycle as a co captain.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I absolutely agree with you — a very astute distinction. They’ve done studies over this, over the negative influences of coercive power over other human beings, and found that in nearly all (if not all) cases, people that pre-power believed themselves to be generally good and egalitarian actually found themselves justifying violent and oppressive behaviors. They did a study, I believe at Stanford, over the relationship between prisoners and prison guards by taking volunteers, interviewing them, and then casting them as certain roles for a certain number of (weeks, I think it was weeks) and found that very quickly the power presented to those given the role of prison guard quickly corrupted them, enabling them with the ability to suddenly justify tormenting the other people cast as “prisoners” for various reasons — it was a terrifying read, I recommend googling it — but I think this same reasoning applies here to what you are saying.

    As Dr. O’Neill has said, one of the main reasons people seek power is because “power is delightful, thus absolute power is absolutely delightful” — and addictive, corruptive, etc etc

    • February 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm

      I actually read that same study in a psych class last year! I can’t believe I did not make the connection until now.

      I understand what your talking about and (reluctantly) find truth in it.

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