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Ar'n't I a Woman? by Deborah Gray White - Black Women

Essay by   •  September 12, 2011  •  Book/Movie Report  •  492 Words (2 Pages)  •  1,639 Views

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1. Deborah Gray White's monograph deals in depth with the lives of female slaves in the Southern plantation. Describe the defining elements in the lives of female slaves - how they lived, how they worked, how they felt, how they responded to their conditions, and how they were treated by their masters and their male counterparts.

Deborah Gray White's book, Ar'n't I a Woman?, places black women in the context of the two ideologies they faced in the antebellum South - the Southern feminine ideal of the dependent, physically inert female, and the harsher imagery of hard labor and dehumanization that characterized the lives of slaves. According to White, the slave woman's identity as defined by white society dangled precariously between these two images. In this sense, slave women found themselves doubly victimized. Ultimately the book identified slave women by considering the imagery forced upon them by white society, but also the society slaves made for themselves.

The outlines of the female slave identity crisis in this book functions as a good overview of ideology surrounding slave women, but does not neglect the realities slave women faced in spite of the plantation society in which they lived. Slave women function within slave societies in much different roles than the women assumed in plantation culture. For instance, slave women often formed tight bonds with one another and within their own families, share more equitable relationships. Treated as property within plantation society, slaves found ways to manipulate their situations, thus exerting influence over their environments. Some slave women even feigned illness so that they would not have to perform the backbreaking work typical of many slaves' lives. Indeed, quite apart from larger ideologies, the book effectively demonstrates that slave women formed their own places within plantation society, thus bringing into question the passivity associated with slave women when viewed in terms of plantation imagery.

2. Define the "Jezebel" and "Mammy" images which are used to characterize female slaves in southern plantations. Post your own arguments on the strengths and weaknesses of both the characters.

There were two prevailing images by which white Americans defined black women. On the one hand, plantation society viewed the slave woman as a sexually insatiable female, a Jezebel, whose licentious appetites differentiated her from the more ideally pious and pure Southern white woman. On the other hand, the slave woman functioned as a matronly, kind-hearted Mammy, intent on caring for her master's children and running the plantation household. As paradoxical as these two images appear, each view represented a part of a slave woman's reality as she related to the plantation household. Indeed, slaves were expected to be mothers in the sense that they were expected to

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