The Narrative of Sojourner Truth is a slave narrative that I’ve been wanting to read for quite awhile. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
Sojourner Truth is known for being a powerful speaker, a committed activist advocating for the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. Her famed 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman” speech is an early example of intersectional thought.
However, her Narrative doesn’t talk about any of this. It gives her background, tells of how she was born into slavery, ran away, and then was “offically” freed when New York abolished slavery. The book talks about her travelling around as a preacher, sharing her version of Christianity, which was aquired through her own thoughts on the gospel. She is made out to be quite an original thinker, and very intelligent. I just was very surprised that there was no discussion about her speeches besides the religious ones.
If I think about the purpose of this book, perhaps it makes some sense. Gilbert was trying to raise money from the publication to support Truth in her later years. She had worked and travelled for years, putting nothing aside, taking the bare minimum in pay, trusting that God would provide for her. (I, personally, would think that people offering to pay for her services was God providing, but then, that’s just me.) In any case, perhaps Gilbert was trying to avoid Truth’s more controversial views to appeal to a wider audience. I don’t know.
I also wish there had been more from Truth and less from Gilbert. Sojourner Truth is famous for her activism but also for her oration. Did Gilbert feel that she had to put a buffer between Truth and her readers? I don’t know the thinking behind the decisions; all I know is they left me feeling a bit cold.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t read the book. It’s pretty short and simple, and it is still helpful to get a more fuller picture of who Sojourner Truth was.
Want more like this? Try:
- Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Incredibly powerful slave narrative. (my review)
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative Life of Frederick Dougalss, an American Slave. Probably the most fanmous slave narrative written. (my review)
- Briton Hammon, Narrative of the Uncommon Suffering and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon. Generally considered the first slave narrative. I haven’t read this one yet. Read it and let me know what you think!