- What was life like for slaves prior to the beginning of the Civil War? Use examples from Harriet’s narrative or information you gained from other sources to describe the institution of slavery.
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It is impossible to exaggerate how terrible slavery was for slaves. Many were beaten, raped, forced to work in terrible conditions for long hours, deprived of family ties, and had to deal with harsh weather and little or no food. Harriet's entire tale gives voice to the immorality and degeneracy of the system that would eventually spark a bloody war and prove untenable. However, her book is also valuable in that it speaks to another problem with slavery: it is just as corrupting for white people. Indeed, the entire South and even the North were affected by the cancer of slavery. Slave masters were licentious and vicious, and their wives were jealous and cruel. Children of slaveowners learned too early about violence and sex and, as they aged, they became indoctrinated into their parents' system. Even white people like Mr. Sands and Mr. Thorne, who did not practice outright violence, were callous and racist. Lies and hypocrisy were rampant. Christianity was diluted and perverted in the mouths of southern ministers and their congregants. Overall, slavery was corrupting to everyone in its reaches.
While slavery was terrible for both men and women, the latter suffered its own particular tragedies. Women, and even young girls, found that their bodies were not their own - they were looked upon as sexual objects that existed for their masters to enact their most depraved sexual fantasies upon. They were taunted and insulted, as in Harriet's case, or outright raped. Many were made to bear the children of their white masters, all the while being deprived of marriage to the men that they would choose for themselves. Furthermore, any child born to a slave woman would be also be a slave, no matter the position of the father. Harriet notes that slave girls simply did not have the option of being virtuous since their virtue was under constant assault. Slave mothers also felt the keen and wrenching pain of seeing their children beaten or sold, or, if they were girls, experience the same woes as they did.