To compare and contrast the representation of sexual abuse of women slaves and the role that it plays in Frederick Douglass’s memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Victor Séjour's short story “The Mulatto,” and W. E. B. Du Bois’s short story “Of the Coming of John,” try to start with similarities. In all three pieces, white men, on account of their skin color, think that they have the right to have sex with Black women without their consent.
In Séjour’s short story and Douglass’s memoir, this predatory dynamic manifests itself within the institution of legalized slavery. Laïsa, and then Zelia, are attacked by Alfred on a plantation in Haiti. The women in Douglass’s memoir, like his mom and his aunt, are brutalized on a slave plantation in Maryland.
In Du Bois’s short story, legalized slavery has ended, but its legacy, especially when it comes to white men feeling like they can have sex with Black women against their will, continues. Jennie is not White John’s slave, yet that doesn’t prevent him from thinking that he’s entitled to have sex with her.
Neither Du Bois nor Séjour represent sexual abuse with much detail. Du Bois describes John Jones “struggling in the arms” of White John. Meanwhile, Antoine promises not to tell Séjour’s narrator everything that Alfred did to “possess” Laïsa.
While these two stories avoid going into detail, the role of sexual abuse remains pivotal. John Jones kills White John for assaulting his sister, which leads to his impending death. Alfred’s attempt to prey on Laïsa leads to Laïsa’s death, Alfred’s death, and then Georges’s death.
In Douglass’s work, the sexual abuses are relayed in graphic detail. In chapter 1, Douglass discloses the intricate ways that his master would abuse his Aunt Hester. He describes the sadistic process at length.
As Douglass is writing a memoir and not a short story, the sexual abuse arguably plays a different role. The sexual abuse doesn’t propel the story forward so much as present a fact of Douglass’s life. The comprehensive representation of sexual abuse might help the reader understand the horrors that Douglass had to face in his life starting at a very young age.