In 1851, one speech made a furore at a Women’s convention in Akron. One woman Soujourner Truth said about women’s rights, arguing with the ministers and disproving their ideas. Many people consider speech Ain’t I a Woman? as a good example of feministic claims for the equal rights for women and men.
On the other hand, this speech also can be considered as claim for the rights for black people in the U.S. who struggled against slavery and racial intolerance. Soujourner Truth’s emphasis that differences in intellectual capability of people or other racial aspects have nothing to do with the human right given by God for everyone, in spite of color or gender, is still relevant and actual in the modern society where the racial problems and conflicts arise every day.
The times and circumstances that gave rise to the speech were difficult due to the social opinion that women should have less rights than men, because it is natural that women have less intellectual and physical capabilities and, therefore, should do some simple home work. According to Soujourner Truth, men treat women as the weak persons that should be “helped into carriage, and lifted over ditches” (“Ain’t I Woman?”).
It was difficult for Soujourner Truth to say this speech, as there were the various men in the church who did not wanted to hear her ideas only because she was a woman. In that period, only a few women could be brave enough to speak in a public place in front of men about rights and equality.
Moreover, even white women felt this pressure and unfair treatment. In case of black people, the situation was worth. The attempts to develop the abolition of slavery were made from the end of 18th century. However, this process had been prolonged and lasted until 1827. The mistress of Soujourner Truth gave her freedom one year before the emancipation had been accepted by the state.
Born in slavery in 1797, Soujourner Truth whose born name was Isabella Baumfree, from her early childhood knew about the problems existed in the society (David and Stetson). In 1908, she was sold at the auction. The girl got her education living with a Quaker family after the release from slavery. However, inborn talent allowed Soujourner Truth to express her experience as a slave and a black woman. Her mother told young Isabella about African’s mysticism and the white mistress told her about Christianity.
Later, the girl accepted the Christian ideas and believed that God gave her the special calling to fight against the injustice. In 1827, she was released from slavery as the result of the antislavery law. However, although black people got freedom, there were many problems and wrong treatments of black people and especially of women. In 1828, Soujourner Truth moved to New York and joined the African Methodist Church. Although she was unable to read and write, she was a talent to speak in a very good way.
Deep voice and strong character helped her to speak in public, doing it earnestly and in a simple way that was understandable for everyone. She knew what she was talking about; therefore, she could express the feeling in a right way. According to Gilbert, Soujourner Truth traveled through Connecticut and western Massachusetts, working in order “to pay tribute to Caesar” (Gilbert 82).
She did the remarkable biblical interpretations, talking about wisdom and faith. In 1844, she joined in the Northampton Association in western Massachusetts where she met many interesting people and where she made her first speech. In 1851, she joined the antislavery movement in western New York and in this year she made her the most remarkable speech Ain’t I a Woman?.
Attending the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Soujourner Truth she wanted to claim about the necessity changes of the attitude to women. This speech “has become the symbol of her power as a speaker” (Fitch and Mandziuk 18). This woman who could not read and write, who did not get a good education could use the various rhetorical devices.
She used the simple vocabulary understandable for majority of the audience. Rhythm and repetitions provided the special atmosphere, making the speech more logical, comprehensive and, thereby, more convincing. Very little education even helped the speaker to be clearer. Obviously, the point style of speaking was absolutely successful and made speech more effective.
Her rhetorical strategy included the use of ethos and pathos in order to support the most important messages and make the speech more powerful. She addressed the particular points in a very effective way, using logic. In the speech Ain’t I a Woman? Soujourner Truth wanted to answer to one man who claimed for the special rights for men as the superior creations. According to that man, all men have the superior intellect and, therefore, it is natural that they have more rights and privileges.
Soujourner Truth argued with him, saying that “What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?” (Truth). Perhaps, men feel free talking about such things because Christ was the man or “because Christ wasn’t woman”? (Truth) There was one man who said women to go home, because Jesus and all his apostles were men.
However, Truth had an answer on that: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him” (Truth). When another man indicated the “sin of our first mother” (Truth), the speaker answered “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them” (Truth).
The speaker comprehended that this speech can help thousands of women who suffer from inequality. Therefore, she tried to prevent the possible arguments and to answer the questions that were asked by other people before. Her arguments were precise and convincing. Soujourner Truth wanted to prove that her opponents are wrong and she was successful.
Ain’t I a Woman? had been devoted to the large group of people who had to unite and claim for the rights. The audience was mixed from both men and women. Some of men also supported Soujourner Truth’s ideas. Nevertheless, obviously majority of the audience had been influenced by the speech of this woman. In that time, the speech had been received good as many people supported the ideas present by the speaker.
In that period, women were able to enter to only one church and one hotel. The main message of Soujourner Truth was that black women were no less females than others, therefore, she asked “Aren’t I a woman?” This speech was one of the most remarkable and bright in that Convention. And obviously Ain’t I a Woman? influenced many people. The spiritual power of this message united people in their struggle and gave them hope that truth and fairness will be achieved.
The idea of the free society was popular among the citizens and especially among those who had been in slavery. Equality as the basic principle of democracy should be given to all citizens of the United States as it was written in the US Constitution. Although it is impossible to state that this concrete speech provided the significant changes, however, Ain’t I a Woman? was one of the bricks that build the new way of social life.
It is evident that the speech is closely related to the culture of its author. Soujourner Truth emphasized a will of all African-Americans who wanted finally to get the rights, freedom and equality. Moreover, some of the statements written on the paper were not maintained in fact.
Although all people should have the same rights as it was written in the US Constitution, women were treated as the less intellectual persons who did not have the right of voice. Cultural peculiarities such as Christianity influenced the way of arguments. Some of the people claimed that the major figures in Bible were men, besides, the first mother made a serious sin. However, such treatment of Biblical messages was incorrect.
The basic principle of Christianity is equality of everyone and the speech of Soujourner Truth indicated it. The historical place of black slaves caused their sharp reaction on the unfair treatment. This speech is the expression of old desires of all African-American slaves to get the normal free life in a democratic society where people are not divided according to the color of their skin.
The ideas of Soujourner Truth that she emphasized in the speech Ain’t I a Woman? are still important and relevant today. Differences in intellectual capability of people or other racial aspects have nothing to do with the human right given by God for everyone, in spite of color or gender. It is highly important to remember this statement. Nowadays, the world faces a number of problems related to the racial intolerance such as accidents in Norway in 2011 and in France in March, 2012.
Many researchers say that Ain’t I a Woman? of Soujourner Truth reflects the feministic ideas. However, her ideas were deeper than emphasis of the women’s rights. Although the speaker argued with those men who supposed that women should stay at home and do the simple home work, she also claimed for equal rights for all people no matter of gender or race.
Providing the arguments and answering to the opponents, this woman influenced the society and become a legendary symbol of strong character and will to get freedom for everyone. Born in slavery, Soujourner Truth knew how unfair the life could be and she wanted to change the system, to make her country better.
David, Linda, and Erlene Stetson. Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994. Print.
Fitch, Suzanne Pullon and Roseann M. Mandziuk. Sojorner Truth as orator: wit, story, and song. US: Greenwood Press, 1997. Print.
Gilbert, Olive. Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. 1850. Reprinted as Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondwoman of Olden Time. Margaret Washington ed. New York: Vintage, 1993. Print.
Truth, Sojourner. n.d. Ain’t I Woman? Web. 1 Apr. 2012.