Influence of Literature
Literature always reflects tendencies, problems, and spirit of a certain period of human development. Poets and writers try to attract the attention of a community to the biggest disasters and challenges of the time. Thus, it is no surprise that a large number of masterpieces were created under the influence of some historical, sometimes tragic or happy events. At the same time, the authors and their books can influence readers and change the whole history as well. There are numerous examples when literature was the only source for people to discover the truth about some events, or it gave them the courage to act in a right and heroic way. There are thousands of novels and poems about such tragic stages of our history as World War I and II, king wars, holocausts, and terrorist acts. The crucial function of these books is to remind people what the consequences of human cruelty can be and to make everybody aware of them in order not to come back to those horrible days again.
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American history is also full of numerous tragic and humiliating events, and, undoubtedly, slave persecution is the most dramatic one. In the first half of the nineteenth century, slavery spread throughout the whole continent. Conditions, under which the Afro-American people had to work, were terrible and dire. Slaves were not allowed to take part in the life of the community; they were always under the pressure. Nevertheless, some people of that time did not share a general attitude towards slavery and tried to fight this phenomenon. There were not only the representatives of the Afro-American race among such activists but also a great number of people from the whole world. Anti-slavery poems and novels by authors, who lived in the USA, were especially rampageous and censorious.
One of the greatest and the most influential novels of that time which probably changed history and provoked the beginning of the Civil War was the novel “Uncle Tom's Cabin” written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The author was a teacher and an active abolitionist who wanted to reveal the humiliating nature of slavery. The novel includes several plotlines dwelling upon the life of ordinary slaves in the nineteenth century. The main character of the book is a middle-aged man called Uncle Tom.
He is a loyal and obedient slave who respects his owner. But the story begins when his master, Mr. Shelby, has to sell two of his slaves to a slave trader. That is how long and tragic journey starts. Since then, Uncle Tom changes a lot of owners; some of them are nice, others are completely inhuman and cruel. Despite all the injustice, offenses, and pain Uncle Tom goes through, he remains a kind person, believes in people, and brings happiness and joy into the lives of other slaves. The novel depicts the story of a real human who can overcome all the obstacles on his way and save kindness in his heart. At the same time, there are such characters in the story as Eliza and Cassy who do not want to follow their fate, and they decide to run away from the owner. They are brave enough to do this step since they hate their slaveholder, but Uncle Tom respects his owner and cannot let himself betray Mr. Shelby. The story describes the lives of different slave families that share common features: humiliation, instant abuses, and the absence of freedom (Stowe). “Uncle Tom's Cabin” can impress anyone with its realistic, sentimental, and pitiful characters. Publication of the novel became a real shock for the society. Will Kaufmann says in his book that it “helped lay groundwork for the Civil War” (Kaufman 18). The book immediately turned into bestseller revealing all details about slavery in the USA. The novel inspired a lot of Afro-American authors to write autobiographical works about the horrible conditions under which they lived. “Uncle Tom's Cabin” opened the era of completely new and different literature which proclaimed antislavery values and the right of every human to freedom. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of the book at the beginning of the Civil war since some sources state that Abraham Lincoln described Harriet Beecher Stowe as “the lady who started the great war” (Stowe 203). Undoubtedly, the book had a great influence on the population of the USA and Europe, changing completely the common stereotype of slaves and forcing people to fight injustice. Although the novel played a prominent role in the process of slave persecution, it is also rich in various cultural texts and poetical means (Kaufman 19). “Uncle Tom's Cabin” is a symbol of courage, human sympathy, and desire to make all humans equal. It depicts the beauty of ordinary people being turned into slaves, their bravery and persistence. Harriet Beecher Stowe created a masterpiece which became the first fuel for the abolitionist movement.
While “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is considered to be one of the first antislavery novels which provoked other American and world writers to concentrate upon and criticize this phenomenon, there was a large number of Afro-American authors who expressed their hatred towards slavery and pictured their own life experience of it in the poems and novels. The author of “Clotel; or, The President's Daughter”, William Wells Brown, was a former slave who depicted everyday life, traditions, feelings, and concerns of the Afro-American people in the USA at that time. This work is also known as the first published novel of the Afro-American writer. The plot of the book includes the observations and experience of the author who spent some years working for slaveholders and saw personally a big tragedy of his nation. William Wells Brown accentuated the uncertain and rightless position of slaves in their relationships with the owners. The main characters of the book are two daughters of Thomas Jefferson and their mother, who became enslaved after the death of the former president. The mother, Currer, died from yellow fever sometime later, while Clotel and Althea are sold to the slaveholders. The women followed almost the same path: they married their owners. Althea gave birth to two girls, who became also enslaved after the death of their mother. The lives of these two ended tragically since one of them, Ellen, committed suicide, and Jane, another daughter, died from heartbreak.
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The second plotline, which tells about Clotel, is not less sorrowful: the woman and her husband, Mr. Green, give birth to a girl Mary, but, in some time, the man betrays Clotel and marries another person. Clotel is sold to a planter, then she tries to escape, but the woman cannot do it successfully. Finally, she commits suicide understanding that there is no other choice to get freedom. The only representative of this family who reaches freedom and becomes happy is Clotel’s daughter Mary. The girl works on numerous slaveholders, she moves to France, where she meets her former lover. At last, after going through all the obstacles, they can be together and live in a happy and quiet marriage (Brown). William Wells Brown wanted to outline all the difficulties, betrayals, and humiliation that the slaves faced during life by this novel. The author showed, using the example of one family, how tragic can be the fate of its members: only one person survived and was happy. The novel precisely describes how miserable the lives of slaves are, how they prefer committing suicide to serve their owners. “Clotel; or, The President's Daughter” concentrates also on a problem of immoral relations between slaves and their owners, when slaves are ready to sacrifice their bodies and integrity in order to become free. The influence of this book all over the USA and Europe was significant since it served as a model for other Afro-American writers on how to reveal the truth of slavery in words. William Wells Brown awoke the consciousness of his nation and of the community as well; he asked people not to be indifferent to such a phenomenon as slavery. At that time, the man had a lot of followers who started to write antislavery novels depicting all the negative sides of owners and slaves. All these new tendencies in literature and the appearance of a great number of Afro-American writers around the USA provoked the beginning of the Civil War. Literature influenced the mind of the community, made slaves braver, and gave them hope to become free someday. Finally, the characters of William Wells Brown were just belonging to one small slave family among thousands of others who shared the same fate, and awareness of such injustice could not let people be indifferent about the problem (Brown).
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Among the Afro-American authors who wrote in order to defend their rights and to reveal the cruelty of slavery, there were a lot of talented and brave women. One of them was Harriet Ann Jacobs, who wrote under the name of Linda Brent. She was a fugitive slave who experienced all the difficulties connected with life without freedom. Harriet Ann Jacobs wrote her autobiography including all pitiful details about her labor days, humiliation, and her attempts to escape which, finally, had a successful ending. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” is a work that follows all choices, fears, and obstacles through the way of a young woman who, probably, is not prepared enough to them but manages to overcome everything. The autobiographical story begins with a happy childhood of small Linda Brent, a daughter of the well-off slaves. That childhood is broken by the death of her mother and her mother’s mistress. The young girl becomes a slave, and she is sent to her new master, Mr. Flint, who is known for his cruelty and negligence. The new owner tries to force girls to start sexual relationships with him, and young Linda decides to start a love affair with their neighbor Mr. Sands in order to stop all love intimations of her master. The result of the relationship between the woman and Mr. Sands is two children, Benny and Ellen, who are also born as slaves. At the same time, Mr.
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Flint is angry about such behavior of his slave, and he sends her to the field plantations. The woman is afraid that her children can also be sent to do hard and exhausting work, and she decides to run away in the hope that her owner will sell Ellen and Bonny. Mr. Flint sold the children to a trader who works on Mr. Sands. Lind’s plan is almost fulfilled, but her former lover and father of the children Mr. Sands do not hurry to give freedom to boys and girls. After numerous and intricate attempts of the woman to escape and to free her children, she, finally, reaches success and can live as an ordinary person. Although Linda, frightened by the enduring pursuit of her owner Mr. Flint and his daughter, gets what she wants at the end of the story, she does not believe in the good nature of people anymore/re, and cannot feel completely happy (Jacobs). This life story of a slave is full of sorrow, disgust, and pain, that show the pitiful reality of the time. The conditions in which Linda lives and works force her to sacrifice her own integrity, suffer physically in order to be able to see her children and live in fear that her life can be easily broken every minute. By her autobiography, Harriet Ann Jacobs wanted to attract the attention of all women from the USA to inhuman conditions in which slaves had to live. The author tried to reveal the dismal phenomenon of slavery to all women appealing to their feelings and motherhood instincts. The book outlined such terrible topics as sexual abuse of female slaves and the absence of opportunities for them to give births and to bring up children. Harriet Ann Jacobs hoped that her story would inspire other women to fight for their rights, to fight such injustice, and to defend such a sacred site of the life of a mother. The author shocked the readers all around the USA by describing mothers devoid of the right to take care of their children. The principal topic of the book was “the mother and the child”, which was extremely close to white women at that time since the so-called Cult of Womanhood was popular among them. Consequently, it is no surprise that this tragic autobiography was a strong impulse for the female population to start an active campaign against slavery. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” influenced a great number of people of that time and provoked them to end the era of slavery. The book followed completely the ideas and tendencies of the abolitionist movement, but yet the success of the book was interrupted by the beginning of the Civil War. Nevertheless, the autobiography played a crucial role in the history of the USA. It increased the impatience of the people towards the slavery and forming the common idea of the women's fate at that time. A lot of women impressed and inspired by the tragic and difficult life of Harriet Ann Jacobs decided to change their lives and to struggle for freedom. Although the publication of “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” was under question during the long time since publishers did not want to release the book without a preface of already known authors, Harriet Ann Jacobs managed to cope with all difficulties and troubles of the time and told the world the story of her life by her own. This book was one of the numerous investments in the process of slave persecution intolerance. Only due to such works and bravery of the people who wrote them, this fight ended in favor of freedom (Patton 54).
The autobiography written by Josiah Henson about the years he spent in slavery was a turning point in the history of the USA. The narrative depicted in detail all stages and obstacles the author experienced during his life. Josiah Henson could not write, but he dictated the text to another person. Thus, all the events and characters in the narrative are real, and the author himself confirmed this fact many times. The former slave dedicated his autobiography to all people who shared antislavery views including the former mayor of Boston. The narrative starts from the birth of little Josiah and tells about his mother and his father who later was physically punished for protecting the dignity of his wife. After their former owner died, all the slaves are sold all over the country, but Henson manages to stay with his mother and works for Mr. Riley. During those years, Josiah approves himself as a clever, obedient, and kind slave. Thus, his master lets the young man attend a sermon, which becomes a real awakening for Henson proclaiming that all people have equal rights. Although Josiah was a hard-working and loyal to his owner, an injustice follows him all the time: one day accompanying his master from the party, he was accused of impolite attitude towards the overseer. As a result, the young man was punished for that. During his long time in slavery, Henson meets his future wife, whom he later happily marries. Josiah works for different slaveholders but is always characterized as the most diligent and smart worker. A lot of people want to help the young man to get freedom since they see a very clever and intelligent person in this slave. Josiah almost manages to buy himself out when his former owner tricks him and makes Henson be in debt in 700 dollars. This betrayal of his master changes the man completely, and he determines himself to escape to Canada. Finally, Josiah Henson manages to fulfill his plan and successfully reaches Canada (Henson). This long and pitiful life story can impress everybody with the boundless kindness of the main character who always remains loyal to his masters and cannot commit a crime even if it can make him free. Josiah Henson could escape easily from his owners for several times, but he did not betray them and wanted to save his dignity. The only possible way for him to become free was to buy himself out, but then the man understood that the slaveholder would not let him free, so he decided to run away. This autobiography inspired other Afro-American authors to write about their labor days. At the same time, this fantastic narrative influenced people all over the world. Hence, Josiah Henson became a prototype for numerous novels and poems. The most famous prototype of the man became Uncle Tom who is described in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beech Stowe. The publication of this novel made the autobiography even more popular and spread the narrative around the world. Thus, this story did not only initiate the number of great antislavery novels but also shed light on the real-life and fate of ordinary Afro-American men in the USA (Stowe).
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It is impossible to write about the literary works which changed the USA in the nineteenth-century without mentioning the father of the slave narrative. The first man who wrote about his life in slavery was William Grimes who open a great era of antislavery literature. He managed to escape from slavery at the age of thirty. Nevertheless, he already had time to experience all the difficulties of life in captivity. William changed ten masters during his years of slavery and performed any work he was asked to do. He works as a stable boy, a coachman, a servant, etc. When the man became a free person finally, he decided to write about the years of humiliation and hard labor. His autobiography was an innovative piece of writing at that time, and it laid the beginning of the slave narrative genre. William Grimes started the story of his life by describing his special status as a slave since he was the son of the rich owner, but, unfortunately, he was enslaved by his first master Dr. Steward. The man mentioned his owner as a kind person, but he had to suffer from the hatred of his mistress who made the life of little William impossible. As a result, the boy does everything to be sold to another slaveholder. He has changed ten masters since then. Some of them were really kind to him and treated him well, but the others beat and humiliated the boy to the point that he pretended to be ill, did not eat, or even tried to break the leg with an ax only with one purpose: to be sold from these inhuman owners. William suffered not only from the cruelty of free people but also from the jealousy and anger of the slaves who worked with him. In this way, the author showed how intolerable slavery reality can demoralize and acerbate people. The author precisely describes the violence and indignity which surrounded him during those years. William tried to escape from his owners for several times, but these attempts were not successful. The man dreamt about freedom so much that he even started to visit a fortune-teller to plan his runaway. Finally, after the years of suffering, the slave managed to escape on the ship to New-York. He met his former master in the city, so he had to leave New-York in order not to be enslaved again. He changed several cities since in every new one he came across his slaveholders. His final destination was New Heaven, but to have a completely happy life he had to pay his owner a big sum in order not to be re-enslaved again (Grimes). The debt was the main reason why the man decided to write his autobiography, but he did not know that this debt would make the start of the antislavery movement in literature. William Grimes was also the first writer who mentioned his status as a former slave in the title of autobiography. The story of his life inspired and influenced thousands of people all over the USA and gave an example for other slaves, to tell the truth about the violent nature of slavery. William Grimes did not even need to explicitly outline the slavery terror to attract the attention of the community. Instead, he just gave a detailed description of physical and moral abuse he had suffered as a slave, and people realized immediately how the inhuman institution of slavery is (Williamson).
William Grimes had a great number of followers who also decided to reveal everything about their lives in slavery. One of them was Henry Bibb, a former slave, who wrote an autobiography and became an active abolitionist after his escape. The writer wanted to accentuate the savage nature of slavery and to express the need to stop such cruelty towards people. He actively helped fugitive slaves, gave lectures on slavery, became the director of the black colonization project in Canada, and even created the first black newspaper (Connell). Henry Bib followed Grimes’ tendency to title the autobiography by mentioning himself as a slave Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave. The story begins with the birth of little Henry who had to work hard on his masters from an early age. Numerous and endless humiliation, scorn, and physical abuse of his owner made the escape the greatest goal in his life. Henry always planned to run away from masters, and although his efforts did not end successfully, he never stopped trying. One of the biggest obstacles on his way to freedom became love. Henry fell in love with slave Malinda; they got married and gave birth to two children. The impossible and terrible conditions of life provoked the man to plan the way of escaping. Henry ran away several times successfully, but he always returned to free his family and was always re-enslaved afterward. Finally, after one of such escapes, he got to know that his wife lived with another man, so Henry left all the attempts to reunite with family and stayed in Canada (Bibb). There, he began to write his autobiography in order to influence people and to raise them to fight slavery.
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Slave persecution was a long and difficult process in the history of the USA. Anyway, it could not be possible to realize this fight without literary works that expressed the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery. It was a literature that raised millions of people to start the Civil War and to make all people be equal. These antislavery novels, poems, and autobiographies shocked the population of the USA and of the whole world begging them to stop slavery. Such authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Grimes, Henry Bibb, Josiah Henson, Harriet Ann Jacobs, and William Wells Brown made the greatest contribution to the development of the abolitionist movement. Moreover, they were the pioneers of the Civil War which, definitely, changed not only the USA but the whole world.