According to Longsworth, Forten spent considerable time searching for the role that she could play in working for justice, freedom, and opportunity for her people. As a free African American in Philadelphia during the mid-nineteenth century, she suffered the indignities and deprivations known to other African Americans, even though her family was esteemed and prosperous. She was aware of the cruelty and suffering inflicted on many slaves, and she realized that the existence of slavery endangered free African Americans as well.
At sixteen, Forten was beginning to explore possible occupations, recognizing at the same time that her background had prepared her for service in the abolitionist movement. Young readers ask similar questions about their own future paths and, like Forten, long to find a life’s work that will fill a need and have value. Longsworth often emphasizes through Forten’s responses that finding meaningful work is difficult; what appears at first to have value may prove disappointing, as did her teaching experience at the Epes Grammar School in Salem in 1856. She frequently suffered from exhaustion and illness during her intervals of teaching at Salem, in 1856, 1859, and 1860. Although she wanted to be useful, and was ambitious in acquiring an unusually thorough education, she was unsure about her direction. Several times she considered becoming an antislavery orator or the writer of a story or novel about slavery. By narrating I, Charlotte Forten, Black and Free as if it were an autobiography, Longsworth is able to personalize adolescent sensibilities through Forten’s feelings.
Forten responded strongly...
(The entire section is 677 words.)