Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501

Journey Toward Freedom is a study in self-reliance. Sojourner Truth's entire life is controlled by others as she grows up a slave. Even her last name changes every time she is bought by a new owner. As an adolescent, her life revolves around working hard to please her master, Dumont....

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Journey Toward Freedom is a study in self-reliance. Sojourner Truth's entire life is controlled by others as she grows up a slave. Even her last name changes every time she is bought by a new owner. As an adolescent, her life revolves around working hard to please her master, Dumont. Yet she develops independence and self-reliance, and in midlife, she determines her own course, listening to the God she thinks is within her, changing her name, and devoting her life to causes such as black rights and women's rights. By showing the values Sojourner discovered as she grew into herself, Bernard's book becomes a study in personal and social ethics.

Sojourner's name change marks the shift between the two periods of her life. She develops from a frightened, lonely slave to a witty, wise, fiercely independent, and brave woman. Her deep faith, self-reliance, high ethical standards, her capacity for hard work, and her physical strength remain constants in her life as she establishes a national reputation for herself as a writer, a lecturer, and a reformer. A believer in democracy and the equality of all people, Sojourner sees blacks and women as the most oppressed people of the time. When in 1864 she learns that men from Maryland repeatedly raid the Freedman's Village in Washington, D.C., and carry off black children to slavery, she counsels the mothers to fight back. They successfully drive off the men. The action illustrates Sojourner's typically swift, constructive reaction to difficulties.

Because Sojourner travels so widely during her life, Bernard's account abounds with secondary characters. Sojourner's owners include the Hardenberghs, the Schryvers, the Dumonts, the cruel Neelys, and the kind Van Waganens, who are devout Quakers. Her deeply religious mother, Ma-Ma Betts, and her aged father, Bomefree, are able to do nothing to help her in these transfers from master to master. Sojourner's first love, Bob, is beaten by his masters for visiting her. Tom, her husband, has been married twice before and is much older than Sojourner when she marries him. Peter, Sojourner's son, is a more fully developed character than her other children. After he is sold, Sojourner successfully works within the legal system to rescue him after he is sold to owners in the South, and she tries to help him recover from this experience. Other secondary characters include Sojourner's grandson Sammy, who often accompanies her on travels; her friend Laura Haviland; and Mrs. Whiting, her employer in New York.

Bernard portrays Sojourner meeting with several widely-known leaders while working for social reform. While living in the Northampton commune, she meets the abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave, speaker, and writer; and Wendell Phillips, an inspiring public speaker. She continues to work with these people after leaving the commune and also works with other abolitionists, including George Thompson, Frances Gage, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. She even makes a trip to Washington during the Civil War to meet President Abraham Lincoln.

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