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Shruti Swaminathan

Mrs. Sauer

American Literature

22 April 2019

WPA 5: The Injustices of Slavery

During the 17​th​ and 18​th​ centuries, African Americans subject to slavery experienced

numerous horrors and injustices. Slave narratives were used to bring the cruelty of individual

slave owners to light. Slaves were separated from their families, tortured, and mentally and

physically abused. Slave narratives written during this time effectively expose these physical and

emotional abuses of slavery. Slaves that lived on larger plantations usually suffered worse

treatment compared to house slaves but this does not in any way mean that the lives of any slaves

were easy. The Civil War tore the nation apart and the influence of slavery is clear in American

culture, centuries later. Slaves were prevented from learning to read or write and severely

punished if it was discovered that they were able to do so. Even after the end of slavery, African

Americans still experienced numerous racial injustices and unequal treatment which led to the

start of the Civil Rights Movement. ​In Ralls’s narrative, she highlights the American cultural

characteristic of justice by portraying the amount of injustices she faced during her time

even after being a slave. She exposes the realities of the aftermath of the Civil War by

divulging how uncertain her family’s future was, similar to many other African American


Justice is an important value for many Americans and this is evident in American

literature but Chambers’s narrative does an excellent job of reflecting the view of African
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Americans during and promptly after the period of slavery. Even though, the Union fought

to free slaves, many slaves still feared what would become of them since they were denied

access to a formal education. ​She narrates how her father had a very respectable occupation as

a preacher, even though he, himself, had not received a formal education. White as well as

African American people came to listen to him and paid for his services, even though he never

asked for money. However, her father was the sole earner for their family and after he had

passed away her mother had remarried and her kids from her other marriage were physically

abused by her husband. They were still not allowed to receive a formal education. Henrietta

Ralls faced many injustices because she was a slave and she also faced harsh treatment after her

mother remarried. Since slaves were not allowed to receive a formal education, their futures were

uncertain. This has had lasting consequences on the lives of slaves and their descendants. As a

slave, Ralls faced cruel treatment and punishments even though she was not in the wrong.

Ralls’s narrative is not characteristic of emphasized traditional Christian religious

ideas but it is reflective of the emphasis on the cruelty of individual slave owners, Ralls

details the horrors she faced as a slave as a result of her cruel owner. ​According to Mrs.

Sauer’s PowerPoint, “Characteristics of Slave Narratives,” emphasizing the cruelty of individual

slave owners is characteristic of a slave narrative. This is evident in Ralls’s narrative because

Ralls receives beatings and verbal abuses after she does not “adequately” complete her tasks.

Ralls highlights the hostile treatment slave owners inflict upon slaves. Slaves who were not in

the wrong were still subject to harsh treatment.

The American cultural characteristic of justice plays a critical role in shaping the

lives of citizens. The absence of justice in Ralls and other slaves’ lives goes to show how
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important it is for all humans. ​Ralls’s narrative serves as an important example that displays

what the mindset of people who face constant restrictions is like. Ralls and her family had their

freedom taken away from them, and Ralls’s mother second marriage resulted in even more

freedoms being taken away from Ralls. Ralls’s inability to receive a formal education is

reflective of one of the many injustices she faced as a slave.

Henrietta Ralls’s narrative exemplifies the extent to which American citizen

prioritize justice. ​The quality of life that Henrietta Ralls and her family face is portrayed as very

poor because they aren’t given access to the same opportunities as other Americans. The

narrative explores how justice can impact the lives of slaves and their owners.
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Works Cited

Sauer, Laura. “Characteristics of Slave Narratives.” Okemos High School. 22 March 2019.


Manuscript Division, Library of Congress and Prints and Photographs Division, Library of

Congress. ​Born In Slavery : Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project,​

1936-1938. [Washington, D.C.] :Library of Congress, 2001.