And Ain’t I a Woman? By Sojourner Truth

The intention of this piece was to bring to light the hardships African American women faced and still had to deal with. She compares the “hardships” that other groups have felt and to show how different the life of an African American woman is.

Throughout the piece Truth repeats the phrase, “Aren’t I a woman?” over and over. She does this every time after she mentions a painful aspect of her life where she had experienced oppression. By constantly repeating that phrase, Truth is really driving home the idea that she is a woman even if society doesn’t treat her as such. By posing it as a question, Truth is almost challenging the crowd to disagree with her. The repetition of this phrase is a powerful rhetorical device that makes her overall point stronger.

Towards the end of her speech, Truth brings up a point a man made that said, “…women can’t have as much rights as man, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman.” (Truth 756). It was extremely powerful how she used religion to drive home her point that women are extremely important and necessary. She points out that Christ came from solely a woman which I felt was a strong argument to make. Truth even goes on to say, “Man had nothing to do with him.” (Truth 756). Making this point was so effective because during this time -early 1850s- religion was an extremely important part of the people’s lives. Many of the people at the convention were white Protestants and for Truth to use God to make her point that she was treated unjustly was extremely effective.

I think what’s most important about this piece is to consider how it was delivered. Truth was a powerful African American woman with a strong voice. She was able to capture the attention of her entire audience because she gave a compelling oral speech about not only women’s rights, but African American rights. As she was giving the speech, she would make eye contact and point out whoever she was speaking about. Her presence is described as, “Rolling thunder could not have stilled that crowd as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated.” (Truth 756). Since she gave this speech orally, her passion and zest were able to shine through.

– -Megan Ross

The most powerful device in her speech is her repetition. Not only does it sound like an awesome slam poem, but it also makes that one phrase, “and ain’t I a woman?” stick out in her audience’s minds and really make them think about how the rights of black women are being shortchanged compared to whites.

During the feminist movement, there were often times when white women would divide themselves with and exclude women of color. When Sojourner says that woman was able to turn the entire world upside down and hence should be more than able to make the world right, she drives home the idea that women are powerful and that they should all stand together against the common hardships they face, despite the color of their skin.

The arrangement of a short-length speech really helps pack the punch that Sojourner was trying to achieve. Instead of giving a huge rant about the way that women, especially non-white women, are treated, she gives a short talk that is overflowing with meaning. This way, the audience is able to retain much more easily what they were told and they will be more likely to  do something about it.

–Skyler Houser

Something I’ve always found a bit bothersome about this speech is the variations of vocabulary in different written deliveries of this speech that exist. Some of them, unlike the transcript in our book,  are titled “Aren’t I a Woman?” instead of “Ain’t I a Woman?”.  Changing the wording from “ain’t” to “aren’t” erases a part of Truth’s vocabulary that made the speech so powerful, because that original tone was something unique to her as a woman of color who was once a slave. Just because grammar deems “ain’t” as slang/improper language doesn’t mean that it wasn’t effective in this speech! Getting rid of the word “ain’t” for grammatical reasons is almost reminiscent of how white suffragettes/feminists at the time excluded women of color because they thought those women couldn’t possibly be as influential  to women’s rights because of their skin color and lack of education. (Boy oh boy, did Sojourner Truth prove them wrong!)

Truth’s informal yet direct tone assists Truth in effectively delivering her intention. By addressing and interacting with members of the crowd in a more direct fashion, such as when she calls out the minister, Truth makes herself and her message to the audience unforgettable.

The written delivery of this speech is almost as successful as the speech was when it was originally spoken. The additions  that Frances D. Gage added to the transcript gives the audience/readers a sense of immersion. The inclusion of descriptive notes such as, “(and raising herself up to her full height and her voice a pitch like rolling thunder..)” , “(..she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power)”, and “(Rolling thunder could not have stilled that crowd as did those deep, wonderful tones..)” allows the audience to vividly visualize Truth’s strong use of body language and her powerful tone of voice. These notes also include one or two responses from within the convention audience during the spoken speech that help to make the reader feel as if they were actually a part of that original audience. By using sensory details to invoke a deeper feeling of immersion, this transcript is effective in delivering the intention to the audience.

— Mira Bauer

The context of Truth’s speech is significant; it was delivered at a women’s rights convention, at which Truth was the only black woman in attendance. Truth likely felt the burden of having to speak for her whole race and, expecting this, made her speech unforgettable by including strong language and physical gestures.

Truth shows her muscular arm to the audience and says, “I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me – and aren’t I a woman?” With this point, Truth contrasts black women with white women after stating earlier that white woman have been “helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches…”

Truth is aware of the sentiments and opinions held by her audience, and demonstrates this. She challenges the implied argument of intellect (“What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights?”) and the implied argument that God is a man, so thus only men deserve rights (“Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him.”)

–Sophie Dahlquist

 

While researching this essay, I found a source that said that although she was completely illiterate, Sojourner Truth stood before the crowd the day she delivered this speech without having planned to do so. Her incredible intelligence and logical points give her logos and ethos. Her logos comes from all of the examples she gives, such as her arms being as strong as a man’s, meaning that she has thought about this topic a lot before. Even though she delivered this speech on the spot, she has ethos based off of the fact that people trust her well-thought out points.

By bringing in the biblical references of both Eve and Mary, Truth pokes at people’s emotions and things they hold near to them. By doing this, Truth evokes pathos. Her stating that “the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back” can be interpreted as the idea of sexism is as old and as significant as Original Sin itself.

Although this speech was delivered in the 1800s, it is still very relevant to this day. As we continue battling sexism in the twenty first century, we can look upon this timeless piece for guidance. Truth acknowledged that men and women can be equal. It is no longer just about legal equality like they were fighting at the time, but also social equality, such as what was mentioned at the beginning of the piece: “[n]obody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”. By stating that even though men don’t treat her like she is on any pedestal, she is a a woman and nothing can change that.

 

— Mary Beiter

 

 

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