Home > Uncategorized > Jacobs, Research, and Literature

Jacobs, Research, and Literature

Where to begin? We covered a great deal in class today from women’s issues to norms in (ex)slave narrative structure. What captured my attention the most, however, as I mentioned in class, was dialect. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, is a narrative I’ve read before, but this was the first time when I truly paused to consider the peculiarities and specifics of what was being relayed to me by Jacobs as well as how she was choosing to relay those things.

I noticed this particularly on page 51 , the third paragraph down from the top, when she suddenly breaks from line by line transcription of a conversation with Flint to a paragraph of paraphrase before diving straight back into the line by line dialogue. I found these skips and jumps as rather peculiar authorial choices simply because it made me question why I was privvy to certain pieces of conversations and not others — what implications does this have for her honesty as an autobiographer and the like. However, as we discussed in class, I do believe a great deal of this was largely due to the intervention of mediators as well as her own qualms about being overly explicit — but it kept me thinking throughout the rest of the chapters about the differences between Harriet Jacobs and Linda Brent.

I do absolutely agree that these types of narratives are personal and largely truthful accounts and not novels at all — but the psuedonym does take even Jacobs a step away from the telling, it seems to me, in an odd way, and I simply wonder how this affected her as an autobiographer. Then again, I may simply be focusing too intently upon this, but given the old trope about how (ex)slaves who took on new names as freedmen often view those new names as a type of rebirth — it simply makes me want to consider what this new name may have meant to Jacobs. Of course, I’m now entering the more  precarious realm of speculation rather than research but, then again, how else does one go about becoming a new research resource if not through some hypothesizing and speculation?

This type of reader interpretation then brings me into my other point of consideration which I’ve been stuck on all week — the difference between these narratives and “memorials” as we traditionally understand them as well as reader interpretation of these narratives versus reader interpretation of “memorials.'” What I mean to say is, by working to develop a new, personal interpretation of these narratives, memorials, and experiences, we are creating a new experience through our own perspective whether we intend to or not. We’re crafting an interpreted experience versus the unknowable, undefinable “actual” experiences of antebellum African Americans.

By doing so, by creating these films and having these discussions, is it possible that we are also becoming a part of things? A part of racial history? Was Jacobs calling us in to become a part of that history and experience when she beseeched us in her work, O reader?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. markcotham
    February 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    I’ve heard it said that the reader is the “performing artist” in the situation of a literary text, so that the audience and the performer are one in the same, while in other artistic fields those two are distinct. But if you think about it, every medium of communication ultimately ends inside a person’s head; the audience is always part of the performance via personal interpretation. However, I don’t think that this necessarily produces a problem in interpretation; it may be worth some thought, though.

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