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Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

Comparison/Contrast Essay of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs

You must always have a reason for comparing and contrasting two things. In this essay, you’ll be comparing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl . You’ll need to choose a reason for the comparison.

Your reason will be part of your thesis. A thesis along the lines of There are many similarities and differences between the texts is a D-level thesis. Remember to have a strong reason for your comparison. Completing the essay’s preliminary work will help with this.

This type of essay often confuses students because they’re unsure if their focus is the similarities or differences. You’re actually working with both. For example, there’s an old saying that says you can’t compare apples to oranges. Sure you can! They have a core element in common: they’re both fruits. Even so, they have differences. Their growing climates, tastes, color, and nutritional values differ. The two fruits certainly aren’t the same; they have differences, but they’re similar enough to compare them. What could be my reason for comparing them? I could write my comparison to prove which fruit is healthier, or I could prove which fruit is tastier.


You’ll organize your essay in one of the following two formats. Choose one format and use it throughout your essay. Do not combine the two methods because doing so will lead to a disorganized, awkward essay.

Comparison and contrast essays can be in the subject-by-subject (or block) format or the point-by-point format. Either way is fine, but your concluding paragraph should put all the strands of your argument together.

Let’s say you have three points of comparison or difference and two examples for each point (you may have more main points and examples; this is just an example to help you). Here are two outlines (excluding introductory and concluding paragraphs) showing you how these different methods look.

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Compare and Contrast Essay on Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass

In this article we are going to compare and contrast the Life of Frederick Douglass with Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. The reason of this comparison and contrast is to evaluate their struggle in the period of Civil War in their own words.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) is the brief, pungent declaration of freedom of a runaway slave writing a powerful antislavery tract. By then, Douglass could pause longer over the story of his life as a slave, but voids in it suggest that there were unbearable memories that had to be omitted. It brings his story forward to the time of its writing, but the slavery days are still there, as if to remind an America eager to forget that slavery cannot be purged from the national memory. Throughout his life, Frederick Douglass was obsessed with an eagerness to know about his origins—to know who he was. Dickson Preston, a meticulous and sympathetic historian, has brought together an astonishingly rich cluster of facts confirming Douglass's account of his early life, firmly establishing the family lineage, and determining from an inventory of his master's slaves the time of Frederick's birth— February 1818 (a year later than the date that Douglass himself calculated). But Preston's diligent scholarship has not revealed the fact Douglass most wanted to know—who his father was.

"My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage," he wrote in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Doubtless he remembered such talk from Betsy's cabin, as people accounted for his difference in color from his brothers and sisters. This talk would have led to his first consciousness of what is termed racial difference; he would have looked at his body and learned that he was "yellow"—had a muted, dull complexion lighter than that of his "quite dark" grandparents and, he would observe later, that of his still "darker" mother. He also heard talk of a legendary and perfectly plausible Indian ancestor; something in the bone structure and the set of the eyes suggested this, not only in Frederick but in his mother and grandmother. He was probably still too young, in Betsy's cabin, to articulate any queries about his paternity although it is more than likely that he had already heard it "whispered," even if he had not understood what he heard, "that my master was my father."

The Life of a Slave Girl (1861) by Harriet Jacobs clearly demonstrates Morrison's assertion, with which we concluded the last chapter. It is an antebellum slave narrative; that is, a personal account of life in bondage and the struggle to be free. Like most slave narrators, Jacobs relates examples from her own experience to represent the kinds of physical abuse and sufferings inherent in slave life. But male slave narrators tended to tell this story as humanity lost, then regained. They depict themselves as conditioned into accepting themselves as chattel then as awakening to their humanity and the possibilities of living self-defined lives. They claim their humanity by separating themselves from other slaves and fleeing to the free northern states. Jacobs, on the other hand, depicts herself as the young and feisty Linda Brent, a slave girl who knows herself to be an individual of value and who is decidedly aggressive in defending her right to self-determination against those who claimed otherwise. Harriet Jacobs's treatment of conflict, dominion, and power is more complex and varied than that of male narrators. As in most narratives, the resisting protagonist does flee to the North, but in Harriet Jacobs's version flight is neither the first nor the only available option for resistance. Jacob's text reinforces the images of slavery as fundamentally dehumanizing and oppressive and of slave women as particularly vulnerable to its depravities. But she also counters the prevalent literary construct of slave women as completely helpless victims. In her narrative, a young woman successfully deflects a master's sexual advances and a slave mother does not allow her children to be sold away from her. Harriet Jacobs writes an account of slavery that does not excuse the evil inherent in that institution but does reveal it as a condition within which some are able to develop strong family ties, develop bonds of affection and loyalty among women, and unite themselves into a viable and resourceful community of resisters. Through the grandmother and others who remained in the South, and who sometimes remained enslaved, but who nonetheless successfully defended themselves against slavery's unrelenting assault upon self-esteem and intellectual independence, Jacobs suggests a variety of loopholes through which slaves might retreat.

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