Perspective on the Slave Narrative

This lesson covers the slave narrative from different perspectives - as a historical record, a piece of literature, political rhetoric, and as an autobiography. Great lesson plan with connections to reading, writing, and history.  Includes an assessment and extension component.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
CLE 3003.8.1
Demonstrate knowledge of significant works of American literature from the colonial period to the present and make relevant comparisons.
CLE 3003.8.2
Understand the characteristics of various literary genres (e.g., poetry, novel, biography, short story, essay, drama).
CLE 3003.8.4
Analyze works of American literature for what is suggested about the historical period in which they were written.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the slave narrative and its importance in the abolitionist movement
  • Gain experience in working with the slave narrative as a resource for historical study
  • Evaluate the slave narrative as a work of literature
  • Examine the slave narrative and other documents in the context of political controversy as an argument for abolition
  • Explore themes of self-actualization and spiritual freedom within the slave narrative
Essential and guiding questions: 
  • What role did the slave narrative have both in historical and in literary traditions?
  • How did William Brown’s narrative contribute to the abolitionist movement?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • There are many other slave narratives available through EDSITEment at the Documenting the American South website, including narratives written by ex-slaves in the years following the Civil War. Students might read Booker T. Washington's famous Up From Slavery to see how the slave narrative genre changes when the immediate political pressures that helped shape Brown's work are removed. (At the Documenting the American South website homepage, click on "North American Slave Narratives," then click "Collection of Electronic Texts." Scroll down to "Washington, Booker T." and select "Up From Slavery.")
  • Students might also compare Brown's written narrative to some of the oral narratives of slave times collected by Work Progress Administration archivists during the Great Depression, many of which are accessible through EDSITEment in the "American Life Histories" collection at the American Memory Project website. (At the website's homepage, click "Browse," then scroll down and click "Life Histories" to enter the collection. Click "Search by Keywords" and type the word "slave" into the search engine to retrieve a list of relevant oral histories.)
  • Further documentary material on slavery is available through EDSITEment at the following websites: Documents of African-American Women, Freedmen and Southern Society Project, and The Valley of the Shadow.
  • A comprehensive EDSITEment Curriculum Unit on Frederick Douglass's narrative is available at From Courage to Freedom: Frederick Douglass's 1845 Autobiography.