A textual protest is a work vocalizing disagreement. Stowe, Jacobs, and Douglass express their protest with slavery through their respective writings Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, stating that as humans, African Americans should be free from bondage. To compel change, these authors humanize victim slaves by illustrating their Christianity, employing pathos, and describing their determination and intelligence. By depicting slaves as people rather than as property, the audience may empathize with the African American struggle and realize the heinousness in which slaves were treated.
With every similarity addressed between slaves and Christian whites, the slave will appear more human and pure, therefore validating the protest of slavery. Each author describes slaves as fellow Christians of Caucasian society, both blatantly and subtly, so that the two group’s equality may be established. Stowe immediately demonstrates the slaves, through her characters Eliza, as pious. As Eliza runs from her master’s home, she is characterized as pleading “Lord, Lord! Lord, save me!” (852). Here Eliza personifies African Americans’ faith in God’s love and omnipotence, believing that He may save her when she lacks the ability herself, a common Christian practice among whites. In Jacob’s work, the slave Linda attributes God as her savior, saying that he speared her from sleeping in her lecherous master’s room. By documenting a slave regarding God as “A kind Providence interpos[ing] in my favor”(863) white Christians may begin to respect the profound faith found within African Americans. Douglass invalidates the religious foundation of slavery. He remarks that slavery’s justification comes from God’s punishment of Ham. As Ham was considered an ancestor of African Americans, whites whom enslaved African Americans regarded their actions as carrying on God’s will to punish Ham and all his kin. However, Douglass comments “for thousands are ushered into the world, annually, who, like myself, owe their existence to white fathers”(877), or that an ever increasing number of slaves are no longer descendants of Ham, but also of gentiles. Appealing to God’s will is a significant argumentative strategy because His law transcends all of man’s law, and the consequences of ignoring God’s recognition of blacks and whites as equals will in turn illuminate slavery supporters as blasphemous.
The authors also rely upon pathos to intensify their protest because they understood sympathizing or empathizing with a victim results in considering that victim a human equal. In chapter seven of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe immediately attempts to make her audience feel for Eliza, saying “It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza” (851). This sentence not only presents Eliza as a slave with typical woman emotions of woe, but explicitly identifies her as a human, so that even if a white reader does not agree with Eliza’s humanity, the dispute about her humanity remains in the reader’s subconscious and may inevitably catalyze a deeper analysis of what it truly means to be human. Fear is universally understood, thus a white audience reading of Eliza trembling, “fluttering shadow[s] send[ing] the blood backward into her heart” (852) may at once identify with her plight and begin to consider her human. Stowe also writes of Eliza calling her son “my darling” (852) and insisting that she will not eat until her son is safe. Eliza’s demonstration of maternal love may further invoke a connection between black and white mothers. The reader may realize that black mothers can be as selfless as white mothers and respect a slave’s motherly love. Also, by admitting a slave is capable of this love in turn establishes a slave mother’s humanity.
The manner in which Jacobs appeals to white women runs the risk of ultimately defeating its purpose, however, it is just as noteworthy. She attempts to humanize herself through her character Linda, describing the sexual harassment she faced from her perverted male owner. White women may identify with this situation, many suffering from oppressive male dominated communities as well. Consequently, when Linda describes the accepted practice of slave owners using their property (now referred to as “raping slaves”), she may unify slave women and white woman struggling with unfaithful husbands and unfair social expectations. However, some white women may interpret her story as further reasoning to loath slaves. Linda documents northern women marrying southern men and then learning of the frequency in which men violate their slaves. Many southern women, like Mrs. Flint, believe female slaves tempt their men and use that logic as reason to further demonize African Americans. In effect, Linda’s story may encourage abolitionists to continue their cause, and slave mistresses to continue their own.
Douglass also employs personal accounts representative of many other slave’s hardships. He compares his treatment with that of a horse, explaining that, like an ignorant animal, he was never allowed to know his age. The argument here being that if Douglass and other slaves are capable of despising ignorance of their personal accounts, he must be as human as every white child who wants to know their birthday. He also illuminates the common practice of infants being taken from their mothers before their 1st birthday. This may spark white parents to consider the horror of their own children’s kidnapping and therefore inspire pity. If these readers then realize that they and blacks share mutual emotions concerning their children, a slave may then be regarded as human.
All three pieces of literature are protest novels due to their own existence. Anti-slavery literature was banned in the South due to its contradictory content. Stowe stands as a white abolitionist flouting her fellow white brethren’s wishes by virtue of her publication. Furthermore, slaves were considered inhumane, comparable to animals, due to their failure to think independently. Jacobs and Douglass demolish this false conception by coherently describing and analyzing the fallacies in which their people are enslaved, therefore discrediting the other principal reason for slavery’s continuation. Douglass especially discredits the notion of African American ignorance, as he developed into one of the most prominent voices against slavery and remains a key figure in analyzing the anti-slavery movement.