1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 27: The History Of Mary Prince by Mary Prince

The History of Mary Prince is valuable, not because of its literary merits, but rather because of the way it functions as an historical document. It is a simple narrative that does not aim to satiate the thirst of those who are curious about the specifics of the abuse she endured, but rather is meant to illustrate the barbarous nature and hopelessness of the institution of slavery. From a literary perspective, there is no doubt that Mary Prince, who went uneducated for much of her life, did not have the vocabulary to articulate herself, and indeed likely struggled to express, in words, the details of her experience as an enslaved woman and the feelings and emotions that went along with it.  However, there is no language diverse enough to truly detail such things. The suffering is of the type that one must endue to truly understand and the reader is ultimately the one who truly lacks the context and understanding because they lack the life experience required to truly relate to the narrative that Mary Prince shares.

 

For readers interested in people’s history, Prince’s narrative has much to offer. If offers details of slave life, the monotony of it, the tragedy, and the legalities of it (this later part mainly via the appendages to the narrative). It is indeed a terrifyingly tragic thing to have a woman detail for a page an a half the barbarity she endured the first week under the supervision of a new slave driver, to read of the whipping and the work and hardships that one had to endure just to survive the first week in one such situation, but then to read: “And so I spent the next seven years, or ten years, or however many it might be.” To know that one’s existence for a multitude of years can be detailed in one or two pages, a brief passages that describes only a single day, and the author can then describe the next decade by saying: and so it was for ten years.

 

Prince’s narrative also describes how the law shaped her life.  She was, for instance, initially prevented her from marrying, though she did eventually marry a free man.  It also details how law eventually gave her freedom.  Though she managed to earn enough money to buy her manumission papers. those who had enslaved her refused to take the money, though it was more money than they had paid for her.  When travelling to England, Prince was brought along to act as a house servant, at which time she found freedom as England had outlawed slavery.  Still, she was unable to return to her native land and husband for fear of being put back into slavery. In England, when she spoke of and published her accounts, the slavers who had exploited her sought to sue her for liable.  It is uplifting to read the responses to these claims as there were, in England at least, men and women who believed in humanity, and who took up Prince’s cause.  They would go onto articulately debunked every claim of a slave driver, and not only helped Prince, a Black woman, to prove her innocence in a white, patriarchal court systems, but also found the white man guilty of liable against her.

 

For anybody who fancies themselves a historian, The History Of Mary Prince offers insight into one woman’s story, a story that no doubt details suffering that still goes on today, even in industrialized countries, and while words like ‘slaves’ may not be tagged onto them, their lives differ little from Prince’s. Though Prince’s narrative may not be as well written as accounts offered by the likes of Frederick Douglas and Olaudah Equiano, such works should not be judge in such a context.  What the work offers, is a personal account that should be mandated reading for every high school student because of its historical, social and cultural importance.

 

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Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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