Analysis of Sojourner Truths "A’n’t I a Woman"

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During 1851 a passionate speech was given by Sojourner Truth at the Women's Convention in a small town in northern Ohio. This message was presented to predominantly white women, and has unequivocally demonstrated the power it carried through the legacy it still has today. It has been remembered for over 150 years as a powerful and emotional message that brought to the forefront, during a time when slavery still existed and was a passionate debate, both race, and gender inequality. Sojourner uses her personal experiences and religious references to relate, unite, and empower the audience on a personal level. Sojourner was born into slavery in 1797 and experienced a life of being repeatedly bought and sold. As well as, the brutal beatings that accompanied it. She, at the age of 18 was forced to marry a slave and had five children. Many of her children were taken and sold. In 1827, Sojourner escaped and found employment. Unfortunately, she was never reunited with many of the children that were taken from her. After becoming a Christian, she changed her birth name in 1843 from Isabelle Baumfree to Sojourner Truth. Being very spiritual in nature she felt compelled to change her name and to travel from place to place, declaring the truth of freedom and equality. During this period in the nineteenth century, President Millard Fillmore had enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This act called for the federal enforcement of returning runaway slaves to their masters. This tense environment had the abolitionist movement concerned that slavery would become more widespread. Imagine a life of constant fear of being beaten, then finally thinking that you had made it to freedom only to be taken right back. It is important to understand the nature of the environment during the Women's Convention when analyzing this historic speech.

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Sojourner, having lived a life of discrimination as a person of color and a woman, is able to connect with her audience as a creditable, reliable source. The mostly white, female audience suffered their own inequalities and discrimination. Thus, allowing them to relate emotionally with her suffering. Addressing her audience, Sojourn uses the term “children” to implicate the similarity they all share of being the children of God. It is also foreshadowing of what she is about to discuss: equality for women and blacks alike. She also eludes to the fact that all of the commotion occurring must mean that something was not right, or “out o’ kilter” because God is the God of joy and peace.

This sense of universality amongst the audience adds to her credibility. Throughout her speech she plays on this commonality and evokes a sense of “we are one in the same,” you are a women, I am a woman, you have bore children, I have bore children, I am subordinate to men, you are subordinate to men, you are a child of God, I am a child of God, we are sisters in the faith, equal in the eyes of God.”

During this time women, admist other discriminations were unable to own property, vote, have any type of voice or say in any matter, including the most basic of decisions, in day to day life. They were viewed and treated as subordinate to men in all facets. These injustices already burned within the audience aroused an emotional response as she spoke.

The audience was also guided into a rational argument in a style that was concurrently direct and humorous. During that time period in our history, the argument given for the denial of equal rights was that the intellectual capacity of a woman was lower than that of man. Sojourner Truth turned this hypothetical reasoning against man’s prevailing thought in her speech by stating that since this is the thought then why should it matter. “If my pintsized capacity is being of full measure compared to the quart sized capacity of mans” to the listening audience (which included some men) this was both logical and rational. It was stated in a humorous way so as to not come across rude. This humorous delivery was very useful in getting her point across. Her style was minimalistic as she used few words, but her presentation was powerful and packed a punch.

Sojourner spoke with a very straightforward manner. She had the intention of persuading society that both blacks and women should be treated as equals. She specifically does this when she points to a man in the audience and states, “dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and to hab de best places everywhar, nobody eber helps me into carriages or ober mud puddles or gibs me any best place” it was then that she used her famous saying “Aint’ I a woman,” to show that she is and should be treated as an equal. She argued that black women and white women deserve equal rights. She persuaded the audience that day that a strong alliance between the abolitionist movement and the women’s suffrage movement was critical in having full strength.

Also demonstrated in her speech is how women are capable of doing just as much as, and even more than a man can, by stating “I have plowed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And A’n’t I a woman?” She continues to give brief experiences followed by the increasingly more powerful and daunting question “And A’n’t I a woman?” These words are made even more powerful by repetition. She repeatedly uses the phrase “And A’n’t I a woman?” for more emphasis and to build up the energy, emotion, and subsequently the feeling of empowerment and a call to rise up and make a change for the better. Along with trying to redefine the meaning of the word, women. As the audience picks up on her energy and indignation, she brings her speech to an end by sharing her past oppressions and her loss as a mother when her children were ripped away from her to be sold into slavery.

Just as Sojourner opens her speech with religious undertones, she ends her speech by reminding the audience that all are united by their faith in God. She unites and inspires the audience to act on these injustices by reminding them of the story of creation and the impact that the first female created by God, had on the world. Referring to Eve as “being strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone,” she goes on to say that if women unite, they should be able to straighten it out and “get it right side up again.” Unify and we will achieve the common goal of equality for all. Sojourner uses multiple rhetorical strategies grounded in establishing her own reliability, credibility, and personal story to evoke emotions and appeal to the audiences’ feelings. By using her own personal experiences and religious references, she is able to relate, unite, and empower the audience on a personal level to go forward and make a positive change for equality.

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