How did Sojourner Truth defy the gender norms of her time period throughout The Narrative of Sojourner Truth?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Women in Sojourner Truth's time period were expected to be quiet, submissive, weak, dependent, and docile. As The Narrative of Sojourner Truth illustrates, Sojourner was none of those things, but instead she was outspoken, self-willed, strong, independent, and assertive.

For example, she openly and defiantly left her slave owner, Dumont, on the day he had promised to free her, despite his reneging on his promise to do so. She went to the home of Isaac Van Wagenen, who bought out her last year of service from Dumont. This was a bold gamble that could have gone badly for her, but Truth was a risk-taker.

Truth also boldly changed her named to Sojourner Truth (her birth name was Isabella Baumfree). She also became a preacher. Other women were preachers during this time period, but this was hardly a gender norm in her society. She took on male preachers outspokenly and insisted that her physical strength and suffering as a slave had prepared her to withstand any test from God that would prove her fit for his kingdom.

Truth also defied gender norms by wanting to achieve financial independence from her memoir rather than be dependent on a man, another goal she managed to achieve.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Truth defied gender norms of the time by being independent and strong-willed. For Truth, slavery and sex discrimination were two sides of the same coin, and she worked to end oppression wherever she found it. Her famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech in Akron in 1851 made the point that, as a slave, she had worked as hard any man, and had given birth to thirteen children. Truth asserted that female experience was in fact harsher and just as important as male experience, and she also suggested that as a black woman, she is not even entitled to the same privileges as white women. This even led some to question her gender.

In the 1875 edition of Truth's autobiography, for example, there is the story of how, at an abolitionist rally, a heckler demanded that she prove she was a woman, causing Truth to open the front of her dress, saying she had nursed many white babies and asking if they wished to suckle as well!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sojourner Truth, born in 1797 by the name of Isabella Baumfree, was a slave until she escaped in 1826. She eventually became a traveling minister. She also joined the abolitionist movement and began to speak about the evils of slavery. It was uncommon for women to be public speakers during the 1800s. Most women tended to stay at home and take care of responsibilities around the house.

Sojourner Truth also purchased a home in 1850. She continued to travel and promote various social causes. Sojourner Truth had her memoirs published in 1850 under the title of The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. During the Civil War, she supported the Union and worked with slaves who had been freed. She also met President Lincoln.

Sojourner Truth’s various activities were not normal activities for women during the 1800s.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial