Mary Prince: From a Female Perspective
Published in 1831, when slavery was still heavily practiced in the West Indies, “The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave,” written by Prince herself, painted a never before seen picture of the life of a West Indian slave woman. Because she was the first woman in England to publish a first-hand slave account, her audience was exposed to a perspective of slave life that had not yet been seen in the narratives of her male counter- parts. Her narrative was extremely successful, going through three printings in its first year, which allowed it to gain popularity among many groups of people throughout Europe and the world. It is due to the uniqueness of her gendered perspective and her ability to appeal emotionally to a large audience that Prince’s narrative played a crucial role in the abolitionist campaign.
Many male slave accounts being produced around the same time as the publication of Prince’s narrative were depictions of their lives in the fields, while Prince, being a woman, was put to work almost exclusively in the plantation house for five years in close proximity to her masters. This close living space shines an entirely new light on the horrors of slavery. She and her fellow house slaves slept, ate, and worked, in the same house as their masters, allowing them to be scrutinized considerably more than their fellow slaves. For instance, Prince reflects on an instance when her close friend Hetty is beaten so harshly that it leads to her death as well as the death of her unborn child. She states, “The consequence was that poor Hetty was brought to bed before her time, and was delivered after severe labour of a dead child” (241). It can be suggested that Prince included this horrific scene to appeal to the emotions of other women. Losing a child in a normal circumstance is devastating in itself, but to be beaten so brutally that it leads to the death of a child and its mother is an emotion that only a woman can fully understand. In another instance, she states, “She then put a child into my arms, and tired as I was, I was forced instantly to take up my old occupation as a nurse” (240). It is revealed later in the passage that Prince has been separated from her own family, but is forced to care for another’s child as her own. She alludes here that the institution of slavery rips women and children apart, while these same women are forced to care for the person’s children who ripped their own away from them. This circumstance is almost exclusively reserved for women in slavery, and allows Prince to form yet another emotional appeal against slavery. While Prince’s tale is just one of many others published, her distinct experiences as an enslaved female allows her to relate to her audience differently than other authors and slave narratives of the time. This fresh outlook undoubtedly evoked thoughts of abolition in the minds of her readers, and continued the fight to end slavery in the West Indies.
Prince, Mary.“The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 240-244. Print.