Freedom Regardless Of Gender Essay, Research Paper
Freedom Regardless of Gender
The novel Uncle Tom s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as the narratives such as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, all deal with the sufferings of slaves and their determined struggle to obtain freedom. Mindful of the obvious oppression of the blacks under slavery, as well as the liberation that comes with freedom, the question of whether or not slaves hold distinct visions of freedom due to their gender arises. Of course, before this question can be arrived at a conclusion, there must be clarification as to what constitutes freedom. Once the definitions of freedom are identified, they must be applied to both male and female slaves to show the different expectations of freedom, or lack thereof, as a result of gender. The examination based on these stories and narratives, thusly, of this issue shows that gender does not alter what slaves consider freedom. The definition of freedom, then, is universal to both men and women.
What, then, are the definitions of freedom? A very basic principle of freedom is free will. A person that is free has the ability to choose in matters regarding work, family, leisure, to name a few. Hence, to be considered free, a person must have the power to choose how to live his or her own life. However, that is not the only consideration regarding the definitions of freedom. In a society, a free person not only has the right to personal liberty, but also the right to protect property and family, whether through personal power or institutional laws. Therefore, another aspect of being free requires the means to protect ownership and familial structure. Also, freedom is not limited to only physical freedom, as emotional freedom is important to being one s own master. The feelings of security, as well as self-respect play an integral part to independence, in addition to being free of physical bondage. These definitions of what freedom signifies are valid because slaves were denied such freedoms, and because of these aims they risked their lives to escape slavery, whether they were men or women.
As mentioned above, one of the basic principal that freedom entails is having the power to choose how to live one s life. Slaves, on the other hand, cannot choose what they can do because their masters own them. Hence, their everyday actions are not what they choose to do, but rather what they are told to do. One example of the lack of free choice can be found in the second chapter of Uncle Tom s Cabin, with the situation dealing with George and his master. George, with the consent of his master, is sent to work in a factory, and because of his intelligence, he invents a machine that saves a lot of work. As a result of his ingenuity, the owner, as well as the workers, of the factory esteems him highly and George can hold his head up among the whites in the factory. However, the master, seeing that his slave can walk with pride and being so highly regarded by his co-workers, senses his inferior to his slave, and decided to have no more of it. He abruptly takes George away from the factory, and when confronted by the factory owner, he simply replied that George is his property, and he has the right treat his property however he wants (p.11). This example shows that despite his ability, George cannot decide what to do with his life because he is a slave. However, after he ran away from his master and settles in the free city of Montreal, he has the power to choose his job, and he decides to work with machines once again. Hence, free will empowers people to choose their desired ways of live. However, free will does not apply to work only, but also to all decisions regarding personal matters. One such right of being one s master is deciding the future of one s children. For how can a person considered completely free when someone else controls the fate of his or her children? In the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Linda, while a slave, not only cannot obtain her children s freedom, but she also has very little power to decide how her children live their lives. For example, when her little girl Ellen is sent to New York to live a Mrs. Hobbs, Linda is promised that Ellen would be enrolled in school and get an education. However, after Linda ran away and arrives in New York, she discovers that Ellen has not been educated properly because Mrs. Hobbs deem her to be too valuable a waiting-maid to be sent to school (p. 483). Although she has been deceived, Linda cannot do anything about her daughter s situation because she is a slave, and thus her daughter s future is at the whim of the Hobbs family. Only with the help of a friend, who purchased Linda s freedom, can Linda finally claim legal custody of her daughter, and she is finally able to sent Ellen to school. By this example, free will also gives a person a power to decide what is best for the child. To sum quickly, by obtaining their freedom, George can now choose to support his family in his own way and decide his family s lifestyle. The same can also be said of Linda and her family.
Besides free will, another definition of freedom is the right to protect property and family. Under slave laws, slaves are property themselves, and thus they are not allowed to hold property. Hence, the wages and life-savings that rightfully belong to the slaves are legally robbed of them and given to their masters. In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass recounts how he resented giving his hard-earned wages by caulking to his master. He compares his master to a robber because he enjoys the fruits of his slave s labor without having to work for it, and all made possible because of slavery. Therefore, when he finally gained his freedom, he enjoyed working with a renewed passion because there is no longer a master who would take away most of the wages of his labor. And although for a while Frederick Douglass works at menial jobs such as sawing wood and shoveling coal, he works willingly because the rewards of his hard work will his own to enjoy (p.325). Another example of how slaves are left venerable because they have no right to own property is Linda s grandmother in the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In order to purchase her children s freedom, Linda s grandmother has worked hard and saved about three hundred dollars. However, her mistress asks to borrow that three hundred dollars, and promises to repay her. But since legally slaves can hold no property, the money that the mistress borrowed was never repaid (p.342). After an old lady purchased her freedom, Linda s grandmother finally is able to purchase some of her children s freedom. These two examples show that freedom also means that a person has the power to protect what is rightfully his or hers.
Another element of what slaves seek in freedom is peace of mind. As slaves were considered to property of their masters, they were not protected by any laws whatsoever. Often they were subjected to cruel punishments for minor offenses, and in general their well being depended very much on their masters temperament. Also, slaves were constantly fearful of having their loved ones sold to slave traders, since they were considered property and liable to be sold at any moment. When the decision is made for a slave to be sold, it mattered little whether or not the slave had been a faithful servant or not. For example, in Uncle Tom s Cabin, his master, Mr. Shelby, describes Tom as a capable and honest person who has served faithfully for many years (p.2). One would think that a servant of this quality would never be sold, but the truth is that no matter how great Tom is, he is still a piece of property. And when his master is in financial trouble, he is considered property to satisfy a debt. Thus, as long as someone else owns a person, there is no guarantee that the servant s loyalty will save him or her from being sold when the master faces financial difficulties. Another instance of a slave s loyalty having little impact in a master s decision is when Dr. Flint tries to sell Linda s grandmother, or Aunt Marthy as everyone calls her, in the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Although Aunt Marthy has served her mistress loyally and well, and despite the fact that she also raised Dr. Flint s wife with her own milk, her service meant little to her new master. Although an old friend purchased her freedom, she is unable to save her relatives, as some have ran away for their freedom, and others are sent to parts of the country. So being a slave means that at any moment the person or the loved ones could be sold and never meet again. Besides the physical burden of being a slave, the emotional strain of slavery weighs heavily too in slaves desire for freedom.
In reading the three different slavery works, the conclusion seems to be that freedom is the same to both men and women. Freedom is the universal want of mankind, the free may have taken it for granted, but for those in bondage freedom is the ultimate goal for their struggles. And as a universal want of all human beings, it matters not whether the person is a man or a woman.