Both trapped inside the horrid institution, a part of

Both Solomon Northup, of 12 Years a Slave, and Harriet Jacobs, of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, were eventually able to escape from the South and the atrocious institution of slavery that had subjugated and tormented them for years. While they both desired a life far away from slavery, their ideas of what exactly freedom meant differed slightly. While Solomon Northup and Harriet Jacobs both yearned for a life away from slavery, to them, just freedom from slavery did not translate into true freedom in the North; true freedom would be a life away from the racial prejudice that stemmed from slavery and its hypocritical paternalism. Solomon Northup’s story takes place in antebellum America, but while living in the North, Northup experienced freedoms that were most commonly associated with and granted because of whiteness. He was educated and was able to freely work to provide for his family and enjoy outings with them without the fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northup’s narrative provides an exceptional and interesting perspective into slavery, because even while he was physically, emotionally, and psychologically trapped inside the horrid institution, a part of Northup remained culturally and intellectually removed from it. Shortly after his abduction, Northup sat with two other prisoners on a slaver’s boat headed south. One of the men accompanying Northup declares that they should fight the crew keeping them as prisoners, while the other disagrees, saying that “survival’s not about certain death, it’s about keeping your head down.” This brings into question the choices that enslaved people are faced with in their struggle to survive, such as choosing to fight or submit to their enslavers. Northup, still not able to grasp how he could be home with his family a few days prior, but now chained up on a boat, disagrees, saying, “now, you tell me all is lost? I want to live.” For Northup, mere survival is not enough; he yearns to return to the life that was cruelly ripped away from him. This is a pivotal point in Solomon Northup’s story because it serves as his affirmation of his independence as well as an assertion of his humanity that validates and sustains him. Solomon Northup, who was born a free man and lived that way for most of his life before being abducted and sold into slavery, yearned to return to that life, where he was able to exercise his freedom and was not considered another man’s property. Harriet Jacobs, in contrast, was born into slavery. She wanted safety and stability for herself and her children in the North. She was grateful to have found work with a kind family, but her dream was to be able to own a home for her family to live in. At the end of her narrative, Jacobs reiterates that her “story ends with freedom,” but “not in the usual way, with marriage.” Jacobs’ writing, for the most part, aligns with the traditional writing style of the time to allow her readers to accept, understand, and maybe even identify with her story, but it also challenges many of the time’s conventions, like marriage as an inevitable fate. Though she is now free from slavery, Jacobs has not married and does not even own her own home, which many in the North would call true freedom. Jacobs says that her and her children are now “as free from the power of slaveholders as are the white people of the north,” and even though that “is not saying a great deal,” it is a “vast improvement” in her condition. Although Jacobs and her family are no longer living as slaves, just as the “white people of the north” are not, they do not yet experience the same freedoms and opportunities. Jacobs still encounters racial prejudice in the North and is judged for the things that happened to her while she was a slave, even though she had no control over her life then.