The Eye and the I – Slave narratives

LMA LELE April 7th, 2014.

new theme The Eye and the I > le Jeu et le je

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the Yellow Wallpaper.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents of the life of a Slave Girl.

.pdf of chapter 1 jacobs childhood

> autobiography

first person narratives > churchill’s memoirs / Rousseau’s Confessions

Slave narratives

> the EYE > slave / witness> lives / experiences

> the I > the writer > free slave.> comments

The reader’s “eyes” read and the reader’s inner self  “I” experiences, feels the words

at the same time = I = Eye

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 15.34.55

Runaway notice for Harriet Jacobs.

After seven years of sexual harrassment by Dr. Norcom, Harriet Jacobs had had enough. In 1835 she escaped from Norcom, although she would remain in her hometown, hidden, for another seven years before fleeing to the North.

In this runaway notice, Norcom ironically states that “this girl absconded from the plantation of my son without any known cause or provocation.”

Image Credit: Copy from the American Beacon, July 4th 1835, Courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History

Harriet Jacobs

Who was a slave > abused / harassed

horrible existence

until she hid and escaped

> became a famous abolitionist and reformer.

1st extract : chapter 1 : Childhood.

> telling about her happy privileged childhood

> comfortable life thanks to her grandmother

who was respected and skilled > she was protected

> at the age of 12

when her mother died

she was given to a 5-year-old girl to be a slave.

She doesn’t accuse anyone / no names given

> universal account / her voice echoes

the voice of all the slaves.

Unit 3- The Eye and the I

Chapter’s conclusions.

Jacobs / Gilman 

In this new unit we studied autobiographical texts that blur the line between reliable accounts of the writer’s life and fictitious first person narratives.

Does the writer tell us the truth?

The ‘I’ usually evokes first person narratives, related to historical periods and historical figures.

For example Churchill’s memoirs. We can ask ourselves why writers feel the need to tell their stories.

Writer’s intentions:

Sometimes they aim at giving a trustworthy account of the things they did throughout their life, as eye-witnesses of their time, they document their life like reporters.

Others try to present the bright side of their personality, picturing themselves as heroes. Others try to apologize or justify themselves in order to find some forgiveness or sympathy in their readers eyes. (Rousseau’s Confessions.)


The narrator’s ‘I’ interacts and sometimes corresponds to the writer’s ‘I’ .

But we can also consider the ‘I’ of the narrator as a better self or an imagined self of the writer.

The readers enter the narrator’s or writer’s intimacy and becomes his or her confident.

Our ‘eye’, the vision we have of the writer is manipulated by the ‘I’ of the narrator which is a projection or creation of the writer.

Literary forms include memoirs, letters and diaries.

The Yellow Wallpaper” is a 6,000-word short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, illustrating attitudes in the 19th century toward women’s physical and mental health.

In The Yellow Wallpaper we experience the writing of a depressed woman who projects herself onto the pattern of the wallpaper of the room she is trapped in. In fact she’s trapped in her own anxiety and madness. Thus writing becomes a therapy and a remedy for her illness.

The wallpaper acts as a symbol for the oppression she feels, it represents late 19th century Puritan values that confine women to the private sphere and subjects them to the will of men.

The patterns and shape of the text itself echo the chaotic patterns of the wallpaper. Writing is a way to free herself but at the same time gives free rein to her dark imagination.

Harriet Ann Jacobs was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist speaker and reformer. Jacobs’ single work, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent, was one of the first autobiographical narratives about the struggle for freedom by female slaves and an account of the sexual harassment and abuse they endured.

Harriet Jacob’s autobiography is a slave narrative. It doesn’t mention any names but anecdotes of her life as a slave. Thus her writing is a witness account of the slave’s living conditions. It works as a historical account and a piece of evidence against slaves’ ill-treatments.

She is able to write her autobiography because she benefited from an education, she learnt how to read and write which accounts for her privileged situation. Yet her voice echoes the voice of all slaves.

She doesn’t accuse or blame anyone except slave owners but she doesn’t give their names that’s why her account is universal.

For her, the writing process only allows hints of irony and bitter statements, the truth of her hardships speaks for itself.

Common points:

  • feeling of entrapment

  • subjected to men

  • 1st pers. narrator called ‘Jane’ in YWP / writer pseudonym Linda Brent for H. Jacob.

  • writing as a way to escape their condition

  • split personalities: insane woman / feminist writer = abused slave / abolitionist writer

  • universal message

  • irony


  • dark imagination vs harsh reality

  • neurotic symbolism vs historical account

  • chaotic writing / stream of consciousness / interior monologue vs structures memoirs / chapters / dates.

  • Modern writing vs conventional autobiography.




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