The History of Mary Prince was written to explain the life of slaves from a slave’s perspective. The last few lines of the narrative say “This is slavery. I tell it to let English people know the truth; and I hope they will never leave off to pray God, and call loud to the great King of England, till all the poor blacks be given free, and slavery done for evermore” (Prince, 344). Thomas Pringle’s preface assists in corroborating with what she said: “She [Prince] wished it to be done, she said, that the good people in England might hear from a slave what a slave had felt and suffered” (328). Mary Prince had wanted to share her story through written word for a long time but was unable to do so herself. Eventually, once Thomas Pringle read a letter of her late Master, :induced [him] to accede to her wish without farther delay” (Pringle, 328). Even though Mary wasn’t the one to literally put pen to paper, her “narrative was taken down from Mary’s own lips by a lady who happened to be at the time residing in [Pringle’s] family as a visitor” (328). This lady was never identified. After she had written it all down, Pringle and Mr. Joseph Phillips “went over the whole, carefully examining her one every fact and circumstance detailed” (328). Throughout the narrative, Prince included what happened to her as well as other slaves to help get the intended meaning behind this narrative more prominent throughout the piece.
As aforementioned, not only explaining what happened to her, but to other slaves as well, helped Prince to describe a slave’s life. One of the first accounts you bear witness to is Hetty’s, outside of Molly’s experiences, of course. Hetty was “very kind to [Molly]” but unfortunately, :led a most miserable life, and her death was hastened (at least the slaves all believed and said so,) by the dreadful chastisement she received from [the] master during her pregnancy” (332). One of Hetty’s biggest responsibilities was taking care of the cows, and one day “one of the cows had dragged the rope away from the stake to which Hetty had fastened it, and got loose”(332). What comes next is absolutely horrifying:
[The] master flew into a terrible passion, and ordered the poor creature to be stripped quite naked, notwithstanding her pregnancy, and to be tied up to a tree in the yard. He then flogged her as hard as he could lick, both with whip and cow-skin, and then beat her again and again. Her shrieks were terrible. The consequence was that poor Hetty was brought to bed before her time, and was delivered after severe labour of a dead child. She appeared to recover after her confinement, so far that she was repeatedly flogged by moth master and mistress afterwards; but her former strength never returned to her. Ere long her body and limbs swelled to a great size; and she lay on a mat in the kitchen, till the water burst out of her body and she died. All the slaves said that death was a good thing for poor Hetty; but I cried very much for her death. The manner of it filled me with horror. I could not bear to think about it; yet it was always present to my mind for many a day (332-333).
Their lives were so difficult, if that’s even the proper word, that death was seen as an escape…the only escape.
Years later, Captain I shipped Molly off to Turks Island. When Captain I sold Molly to Mr. D, it was revealed that if you were not good enough, fast enough, strong enough, or just enough then you were going to be punished. Old Daniel had a bad hip and was unable to push the wheelbarrow as quickly as Mr. D wanted him to. Old Daniel was ordered to strip down and lay on the ground where he would be “beaten with a rod of rough briar till his skin was quite red and raw” (335). After beating him, Mr. D would throw a bucket of salt water over his fresh wounds “till the man writhed on the ground like a worm, and screamed aloud with agony” (335). It is said that his wounds rarely healed and would often be infested with maggots (335).The fact that someone could be being eaten by bugs while still alive AND expected to continue working better than a human in perfect health is enraging, upsetting, disappointing. There truly are no words to describe how terrible and putrid that is.
Ben, another slave working for the same family, was caught stealing rice from his master’s kitchen. As punishment, Mr. D had him hung up by his wrists without food for the majority of the following day. Periodically, Mr. D would come in and lick him even though there was a pool of Ben’s blood at his feet. When Ben claimed that he had taken the rice because he caught Mr. D’s son doing the same thing, it enraged Mr. D, making Ben’s punishment even worse. When Mr. D confronted his son, he denied that he had ever taken the rice. When the son found out that Ben had snitched on him, he went out and shoved a bayonet through Ben’s foot (336).
Even though this narrative was written to inform nonslaves of what a slave’s life was, Prince goes into very little detail of what actually happened; she gives the readers the basic knowledge of each situation almost as if the in-depth stories might be too much for the readers to handle. For example, there are many places where Prince refuses to repeat what one of her masters or mistresses said because of how graphic or intense it was. While staying with Captain and Mrs. I, she was asked to empty out a jar that “was already cracked with an old deep crack that divided it in the middle, and in turning it upside down to empty it, it parted in [her] hand” (333). Of course, Mrs. I had punished her right then, but that wasn’t good enough; she waited for her husband to come home and immediately told him what had happened and that he needed to punish her. He went out to punish her and “After abusing [her] with every ill name he could think of, (too, too bad to speak in England,) and giving [her] several heavy blows with his hand, he said, “I shall come home to-morrow morning at twelve, on purpose to give you a round hundred” which is exactly what he did (333). There is another instance where Prince states that “It is not possible to tell all her ill language” when discussing Mrs. Wood’s dissatisfaction with her work no matter how hard Molly truly worked (338).
In essence, Prince was able to generate its effect on the reader through the accounts in which she included throughout the narrative. Even though they were lacking in gruesome detail, the reader was given enough to feel sympathy, to feel pity, but not enough to understand, if that were even possible. Prince used accounts of herself and others to further emphasize the hardship slaves were faced with every single morning they woke up until finally they woke up for the last time.
Prince, M., & Pringle, T. (2013). The History of Mary Prince. In The broadview anthology of British literature (second, Vol. B, pp. 327–344). essay, Broadview Press.