The slave narrative is a literary genre that recounts the personal experiences of American slaves who escaped from captivity and found safety in the Northern states or Canada. According to scholars, over 65 were published as books or pamphlets before 1865.

This genre was aimed at two audiences:

      1. abolitionists seeking confirmation that they were on the "right side"
      2. undecided Whites in the northern states

The purposes of the slave narrative were to:

      1. arouse the sympathy of readers
      2. emphasize Christian ideals (remember the Second Great Awakening)
      3. emphasize cruelty of slave owners

The narratives were heavily influenced by the King James Bible, and in many cases made very clear allusions to Biblical events and stories. Author Frances Foster Smith in Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Antebellum Slave Narratives noted that in a typical slave narrative, the action in the story often begins in an Edenic paradise, but when the narrator realizes what slavery means, it symbolizes the expulsion from Paradise. The middle of the work shows life in "the wilderness" of slavery, and culminates with the escape into the "Promised Land" of freedom.


Many slave narratives repeated similar motifs, such as:

      1. physical, emotional and sexual abuses
      2. hypocrisy of slave owners
      3. quest for literacy
      4. quest for freedom
      5. loss of significant family members, and destruction of families



This was adapted from a longer article by Donna M. Campbell, called "The Slave Narrative". You can find the fuller version at If this interests you, you should definitely read her article. This could be a good idea for Spring term research papers.