Audience Relationships in the Slave and Neo-Slave Narrative: Comparing Texts by Jacobs and Butler College

One difference between the slave and neo-slave narrative is the relationship of the audience to the text’s protagonist. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs cannot address her audience from equal grounds; because of her political motive, she speaks as a kind of solicitor who must reach across a barrier to convince the reader of her position. In contrast, Butler’s text assumes the equality of the narrator and the audience; since Butler’s world is fictional, the reader has no grounds to argue against the experiences that Lilith describes. In both cases, the narrator’s purpose determines their relationship to the reader. Under the premise of the reader’s trust, Butler draws her reader into fictional experiences where they can experience the protagonist’s dilemmas first hand. Butler’s method ultimately results in the expansion of the reader’s view of the issues she describes. Jacobs, on the other hand, uses her separate position as a slave to convince the reader of her political stance.

Jacobs addresses a white, female audience with the intention of inspiring political action in favor of abolition. Butler, in contrast, does not claim to address a specific reader. The general demographic seems to be the...

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