“Yet, to their senses, are women made slaves”: The Embodied Politics of Slavery in The History of Mary Prince (1831)

Laura Kaye Allard

Abstract


The History of Mary Prince (1831) was the first slave narrative published in English by a West-Indian slave woman, yet Mary Prince and her History were not studied critically until Moira Ferguson republished Prince’s narrative at the end of the second-wave feminist movement. Given Mary Wollstonecraft’s description of white middle-class wives as slaves in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Prince successfully achieves Wollstonecraft’s goal “to speak the simple language of truth” through Prince’s use of sensory imagery to describe the horrors of slavery, which Prince downplays through her use of litotes. By undercutting her description of the harsh physicality of slavery, Prince demonstrates that she has normalized the horrors of slavery, thereby proving that the psychological abuse which Prince endures is far worse than the physical abuse which she describes. This paper employs a feminist and a postcolonial critical lens to examine how colonialism influenced Prince’s and Wollstonecraft’s definitions of slavery and, subsequently, each woman’s representation of slavery. Furthermore, this paper uses a New Formalist approach to examine—in reverse chronological order—the events that caused Prince to define slavery in the West Indies in opposition to Wollstonecraft’s definition of slavery within marriage. Prince’s achievement lies in her resistance to the systematic silencing of black female voices, as Prince’s decision to tell the truth about slavery to the English people set the precedent for other marginalized voices to speak their personal truths, during the second-wave feminist movement and beyond.

Keywords


Mary Prince; Mary Wollstonecraft; Second-Wave Feminist Movement

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