Deborah Gray White’s Ar’n’t I a Woman? details the grueling experiences of the African American female slaves on Southern plantations. White resented the fact that African American women were nearly invisible throughout historical text, because many historians failed to see them as important contributors to America’s social, economic, or political development (3). Despite limited historical sources, she was determined to establish the African American woman as an intricate part of American history, and thus, White first published her novel in 1985. However, the novel has since been revised to include newly revealed sources that have been worked into the novel. Ar’n’t I a Woman? presents African American females’ struggle with race and
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On the plantations, female slaves took on roles and duties that strongly contradict the traditional female roles of popular white society. As white women were placed atop pedestals and sheltered by their men, African American women were hardly seen as women at all, and therefore, treated as physically brutal as African American men. Only black women had their womanhood completely stripped of them. For me, this comparison was one of the most enlightening portions of the book.
White completes her detailed analysis of the major aspects of the female slaves’ lives, with a look into their family life, marital roles, and their reliance on the female slave community. Contrary to American practice of the man overruling the household, in their role as mothers, female slaves were regarded as the central figures in the slave families. In reference to the role of mother, White writes, “a role which was presumed legitimate independent of the father’s or husband’s role” (159). At anytime, fathers could be sold away from their family, but slave masters usually kept mothers with their children because they were the ones responsible for their young, and slave-owners knew that they could use the mothers’ children as leverage to ensure her cooperation. Luckily, slave mothers could rely on their female slave networks to aid in child care. It was not unusual for slave mothers to be expected to