Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth didn't need to learn to read or write to be a powerful rhetorician. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel that she would have been even more formidable had she been able to wield the pen or read the words that others recorded her as saying. The power of writing and reading can allow women to control their own stories, rather than being defined to history by the words of others.

The speech attributed to Truth, "Aren't I a Woman," was transcribed as if it were spoken in a Southern, uneducated dialect. The editors of Available Means included a translation of that transcription that removes the aspects of the dialect that were unlikely to have been spoken by Truth, a native of New York state. It is possible that Truth affected a certain dialect in order to all the more confound people's expectations by conforming to some obvious ones. She might have thought it more powerful to speak unexpected words in an expected way. Or, the transcriber may have just been trying to make her sound like a stereotype, to differentiate her from others even as the speech fights to include her in that broad category of woman.

Just as Fuller pointed out that no one questions the ability of a woman to work hard if they are a slave, Truth boasts of her ability to work as hard as a man, eat as much as a man and yet remain, indelibly, a woman. By being so different from her audience, she forces them to find a wider definition of womanhood, even if only for that moment that she stood before them.

Since Truth's argument against the idea that women shouldn't have rights because Christ was not a woman was so powerful, it is a shame that the transcription misses the content of her next argument regarding Eve. "Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him" (145). Truth turns the argument on its head with these words. No one would argue the tradition that Christ was born from the virgin Mary, but it took a woman to bring that fact to its logical exclusion of men from the son of God.

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