Synthesis of Close Reading and Historical Context: Women Helping Other Women

Madeline White

Here is an excerpt of synthesis of close reading and historical context from The History of Mary Prince. In this section, I focus on why one woman’s mistreatment of Mary Prince is even more disturbing when one considers the historical context.

As an adult, the time Mary Prince is forced to spend as a slave under Mr. and Mrs. Wood is one of the most horrific she experiences, as a woman is constantly working against her. The couple is the type who believes they can never get a slave to work hard enough, so they constantly increase their cruelty. Mrs. Wood is just as violent and sadistic as her husband, if not worse. She refuses to set Mary free, even after she offers to buy her freedom multiple times. Mrs. Woods’ abuse worsens after Mary chooses to get married, as Mary Prince states, “Mrs. Wood was more vexed about my marriage than her husband. She could not forgive me for getting married but stirred up Mr. Wood to flog me dreadfully with his horsewhip” (LePan 340). In this case, Mrs. Wood uses what little power she likely has with her husband to brutalize another woman. This is not the only time that Mrs. Wood encourages Mr. Wood’s cruelty. Earlier in the narrative, Mary mentions a moment of assertiveness, but illustrates Mrs. Wood’s disturbing reaction, stating, “She called her husband and told him what I had said. He flew into a passion…he only abused and swore at me” (LePan 338). Mrs. Woods’ bloodlust makes the situation even more disturbing. Mrs. Woods’s sadism is further illuminated by the fact that most women at that time gave up their independence when they married, which means that her cruelty towards Mary is even more calculated. Women became a piece of property belonging to their husbands, thus eliminating their autonomy in most cases. A woman could not own her own property for a large portion of the century. The first attempt at changing that occurred in 1870, but no genuine development occurred until twelve years later. Women being able to inherit property was also rare (Pullan 493). Mrs. Woods’ ability to dominate over her husbands is even more unique. One would think she might show empathy towards Mary, as being a woman provided her with limited rights herself. Instead, Mrs. Woods turns on another woman and victimizes her, thus making her actions all the more disturbing.

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Introduction to Literary History and Interpretation Copyright © by Madeline White. All Rights Reserved.

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