The Mary Prince’ follows the life of Prince through

The novel
written by Mary Prince portrays convincing arguments that slavery was worse for
women however, there are aspects of the autobiography that leave room for the counter
argument that slavery was equally as terrible for both genders. ‘The history of Mary Prince’ follows the
life of Prince through her experiences of slavery until she reaches freedom in England.

Prince describes her time with each master, often writing about her fellow
slaves and the treatment they endured. Throughout the novel Prince uses the
continual motif of the slaves being treated like cattle. This animalistic
imagery illustrates the idea that they were treated like animals and not human
beings, therefore creating the argument that slavery was not worse depending on
gender, but depending on master and mistress’s viewpoints on the slaves as
‘possessions’.

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            Throughout Prince’s short novel she
writes of other female slaves that are treated brutally by their masters and
some even murdered. For instance, within the first few pages of the
autobiography, Prince introduces a fellow slave Hetty, who she describes as an
‘aunt’ like figure, whilst owned by Mr and Mrs I___. The aunt like figure may
be used to show how the slaves were almost like a family and community as ‘slave
marriages and family ties were not recognized by law. Owners were free to sell
husbands from wives and parents from children. Many large slaveholders had
numerous plantations and frequently shifted slaves, splitting families in the
process.’ (Digitalhistory.uh.edu,
2018)
From the very first
introduction of Hetty in the novel Prince describes her as, ‘the most active woman
I ever saw, and she was tasked to her utmost.’ (Prince, 2012, pg. 13) This line shows Prince’s respect and
admiration for Hetty and how she was able to do a vast number of chores set for
her on a daily basis. The immediate listing effect Prince uses to give a
detailed description of Hetty’s daily chores promotes empathy from the readers
as we appreciate how hard Hetty had to work on a daily basis to please her
masters. Therefore, when Hetty is flogged by her master repeatedly for not
finishing her tasks fast enough, it makes the readers appreciate how impossible
slavery was for these women during the time period.

The death of Hetty is an especially violent and graphic
part to the book that Prince dictates almost emotionlessly to the reader. We
are informed that she is ‘stripped naked’ and ‘repeatedly flogged’ by Mr I___
whilst tied to a tree and pregnant. The result of this vicious attack was that
a bloodied Hetty suffered the still birth of her child and whilst she appeared
to ‘recover after her confinement’, both master and mistress violently flogged
her until, ‘the water burst out of her body and she died.’ (Prince,
2012, pg. 16) This barbaric imagery highlights slavery and humanity at its
worst. The fact that female slaves were often stripped naked and then flogged
is significant within this short novel because it demonstrates a humiliating,
emotional punishment as well as a physical punishment carried out by masters. During
Prince’s lifetime, it was considered morally wrong and a sin to be undressed or
sexually promiscuous with anyone except their husbands. Therefore, regarding
the silence Prince attaches to the father of Hetty’s child insinuates that it
is in fact the master’s illegitimate child. ‘Most often the masters were
already married which caused tension and hatred between the slave and mistress
of the house. Many mixed-race children also resulted from these relations.

Because the ‘status of the child’ followed that of its mother, the child of a
white man would not be freed based upon partial genealogy.’ (Bowdoin.edu, 2018)
This quotation supports why female slaves found slavery far worse than men
because it was not the slaves fault for her master’s infidelity, however, she
would receive the blame from the mistress and experience much harsher treatment
due to resentment. This may have been the case in Hetty’s situation as Prince
describes how Mrs I___ was never satisfied with her work and why all the slaves
said, ‘death was a good thing for poor Hetty.’ (Prince, 2012, pg. 16)

Throughout other parts of the autobiography there
can be more cases touched upon by sexual harassment and illegitimate children.

For example, Mary’s sister is said in the footnotes to have had ‘several
children with her master.’ (Prince, 2012, pg. 23) The fact that she has several
children with her master demonstrates that many masters didn’t care about the
illegitimate children and often sold them as slaves when they were of a certain
age. ‘Child-bearing amongst slaves started around the age of thirteen, and by
twenty the women would be expected to have four or five children. To encourage
reproduction, some population owners promised women slaves their freedom
after they had produced fifteen children.’ (Spartacus
Educational, 2018) The
desire for mass reproduction of slave children was due to the fact that many of
them died young and therefore had no value to their owners. Mary
Prince herself becomes subject to sexual harassment when her master, Mr D___,
makes her frequently bathe him and wash his naked body. Prince, a proud
religious woman, struggled with this demand greatly as she found it, ‘worse
than all the licks… I could not come, my eyes were so full of shame… I then
told him I would no longer live with him.’ (Prince, 2012, pg. 24) The fact that
Prince identifies this as worse than being beaten indicates a possible sexual
assault taking place. ‘As slaves were the property of
the plantation owner,
the rape of a black woman by whites was not considered a crime.’ (Digitalhistory.uh.edu,
2018)

            During
Prince’s novel, Mary comes into contact with several male slaves. The first
male slaves we read about are the two little slave boys owned by Mrs I___. Prince
explains how one of the boys, Cyrus, was a Mulatto who had been taken from his
mother as an infant and the other boy, Jack, was African from the coast of
Guinea. Although mulattoes had both white and black genetics, they were still
considered black. ‘These mixed children would learn in adolescence what made
them different, and often more hated, than the average black slave, and they
would spend the rest of their lives enduring punishment for something that they
had no control over.’
(Blogs.lt.vt.edu, 2018) The fact that Cyrus was a Mulatto may have
explained why he was poorly treated by Mrs I___. Jack however is a prime
example of the transatlantic slave
trade that was responsible for the forced migration of between 12 – 15
million people from Africa to the Western Hemisphere. (Edser, 2018) Therefore, it
is the continual torture of these young boys’ that enables someone to disagree
with the statement that slavery was worse for women and to argue that slavery
was unjust regardless of gender.

            Another
male figure that helps to support the idea that slavery was unjust regardless
of gender is Daniel. Daniel is a slave that Prince meets whilst owned by Mr
D___. Like some of the women in Prince’s novel, Daniel is said the have been ‘stripped’
and beaten highlighting the fact that the emotional and physical torture was
present for both genders. Arguably, the story of Daniels life is more barbaric
than that of Hetty’s murder. It can be debated that Hetty was freed within
death and her suffering was stopped, whereas for Daniel, his master inflicted
the maximum amount of pain possible by throwing salt into his wounds to
increase torment. ‘This poor man’s wounds were never healed, and I have often
seen them full of maggots.’ (Prince, 2012, pg. 21) The fact that Daniel is subjected
to such brutality demonstrates how badly older slaves were treated as they
became less useful to their masters. Prince describes Daniel as, ‘an object of
pity and terror to the whole gang of slaves, and in his wretched case we saw,
each of us, our own lot, if we should live to be as old.’ (Prince, 2012, pg.

21) The use of collectivity within this line conveys how the slaves did not
identify this fate with a gender, but, rather accepted each slave would in turn
expect to be victimised this way by Mr D___ when they became old and slow.

            In
conclusion, I personally disagree with Jacobs comment that, ‘Slavery was terrible for men; but far
more terrible for women.’ I disagree because I believe that the extent of abuse
a slave endured, depended upon the feelings of masters and mistresses. For
example, at the beginning of this novel Prince admits how she loved her
mistress, Mrs Williams, and expressed a great sense of loss when she dies. The
fact that these are the only masters and mistresses that she names within her
novel illustrates her feelings towards her owners. Throughout Prince’s novel,
all the slaves, regardless of gender, are emotionally and physically abused in
some way to keep them supressed and in line. The severity of punishments
depended upon the master and mistresses’ feelings towards a given slave and how
hard the slaves worked. Throughout her novel, Prince discusses the treatment of
the slaves and continuously uses the motif of cattle to make her comparisons. For
example, Prince uses the cattle imagery whilst describing where the slaves
slept whilst owned by Mr D___. ‘We slept in long sheds…. Like stalls used for
cattle.’ (Prince, 2012, pg. 19) This demonstrates that on the plantation, all
the slaves slept outside in sheds like animals and possessions of their masters
regardless of gender.