Despite the obvious way in which slave narrative is 'married' to historical
context as both public testimony and personal, imaginative expression of a
specific experience, slave narrative presents the reader w ith unfinished
journeys. The narratives which are the focus of this study are partial
autobiographies, to the extent that Olaudah Equiano, H arriet Jacobs and
Frederick Douglass each lived beyond the experiences about which they wrote.
This is most obvious in the case of Douglass, who wrote three autobiographies.
We are fortunate that Douglass wrote and re-wrote his life, and it is not
unreasonable to wish, however fancifully, that Equiano and Jacobs had done the
same. It is impossible to predict what their imaginary autobiographies would
contain, beyond details of their lives in freedom which have come to us through
historical sources, but it seems safe to assume that, like Douglass, Equiano and
Jacobs would have opened doors that remained closed in the first narratives, in
order to re-vision the past and shed light on the present. Indeed, the very act of
imagining the slave narrator as creative agent beyond his or her journey to
freedom, opens readers' minds to the possibilities of slave narrative. This is the
imaginative journey performed by the fictional narratives of slavery, Dessa Rose
and Beloved, into the world the slaves made, to probe and specify experiences in
slavery and freedom. For the slave narrator, 'storying' his or her life was a
beginning, not an end: their lives in freedom awaited them, and that longawaited and cherished freedom was no more predictable or pre-determined than
was the experience of slavery. 'Storying' slavery was a cathartic process through
which the past was given meaning and order, and through which the storyteller could return to an image of the unrealised self in order to make it whole.
Slave narrative is an engaged body of writing— it participates in contexts which
precede it, if African cultural practice is acknowledged as a vital presence in the
slaves' lives, and in the narratives through which many ex-slaves were able
account for their experiences in slavery. Slave narrative reflects mythic
dimensions which transcend it, if realms of family, community and religion
shaping childhood, adolescent struggle, and adult dilemmas are acknowledged
as significant in slave narrative. The unfinished journey of slave narrative also
is immediately evident in black creative traditions which acknowledge the
slave's voice— spoken, sung and written— as its first utterance.