Slave Narratives

(Longer Version)

From 1760 to 1947, more than 200 book-length slave narratives were published in the United States and England, and more than 6,000 briefer slave narratives, some as short as a page, are known to exist.  Slave narratives have a place in American literature, both as literary artifacts and as effect propaganda in the abolition movement.

Some early slave narratives included:

and other 19th-century narratives were also popular, such as:

These early slave narratives are sometimes compared to such 20th-century works as:

The influences on the slave narrative in American literature were many:

These influences affected not only the former slaves whose lives were the subject of narratives but also those white abolitionists who assisted in the writing of many slave narratives.  Particular attention might be paid to elements of traditional autobiography, storytelling, adventuring, and sermonizing that lent effectiveness to the slave narratives.

The 19th-century "ante-bellum" (the period before a war) slave narrative:

However, the black narratives of the 20th century:

Slave narratives are sometimes compared to "Rags-to-Riches Tales," which are akin to parts of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and the Horatio Alger “Ragged Dick” series.  Usually, a poor boy goes to the city, makes the most of his chances, encounters good fortune and events to prove himself, and advances to inevitable success.  The conventional rags-to-riches story contains:

Slave narratives traditionally:

Slave narratives were popular because of:

Douglass' narrative has been called a "landmark in the literary crusade against slavery," one of the "most influential pieces of reform propaganda in American literature."  Its popularity is accounted for by its:

Douglass' narrative is typical of the "traditional American autobiography" (again, think Ben Franklin) because it:

(Discussion Question: Which of these three qualities is most prominent in Douglass' narrative?)

Douglass' narrative is also often compared with the "Indian Captivity Narrative" of Mary Rowlandson.  For example, each author: