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Aint I a Woman?

1851 was a tumultuous time for minority groups in the United States, most prominently
for African-Americans and women during a time of rampant slavery, unfair conditions such as
job discrimination and limited access to education, and strict lack of rights. When Sojourner
Truth became one of the first African-American women to rise in the public eye, to the point of
giving a speech at the National Womens Convention in the aforementioned year, she became a
pivotal symbol of the emancipation and suffrage movements. Sojourner Truths 1851 Aint I a
Woman? speech effectively uses rhetorical questions and rebuttal to promote womens rights
through appeals to logic, credibility and emotion.
Repetition plays a prominent role in this speech, as the title is used in juxtaposition to
Truths own experiences for the main argument. In this way Truth is able to reveal an intimate
part of herself to the audience, drawing them in to hear her story by proving that she is in fact an
expert on the topic of suffering as a minority because of the situations a hateful society placed
her in. The main argument begins rather innocently, by identifying a commonplace among men
at the time that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the
best place everywhere, which Truth immediately rejects as hypocrisy as she has never
experienced any of those things. In the next two claims she shows how physically capable she is,
and proves once more her equality to men and again invokes sympathy and credibility by tacking
on how she did all this amid limited access to food and the real threat of physical abuse. Most
effectively, she appeals to the audience of women with her last claim, which refers to
motherhoodseeing her own children taken from her and sold off to work for the rest of their
lives. Her rallying cry is placed after each of these claims: and aint I a woman? Repetition
acts as a magnifier in this sense to emphasize each prior point and metaphorically twist the
dagger deeper in our own hearts, yet this appeal to pathos does not cause the audience to pity
Truth because her established ethos proves her to be a strong and capable human being, able to
withstand all her trials. The logic behind her claims are simple: these are facts from Truths life,
but they are applicable to thousands of women across the continent at this time, and this is
common knowledge.
The second portion of Truths speech focuses on rebutting commonplaces that attack her
argument, mainly how many believed that intellect was a factor in who should be respected, and
how religion in certain interpretations shows that women are inherently evil and weak. She
combats these arguments methodically, first identifying the fallible commonplace, and then
proving it to be false. For instance, Truth cleverly uses an analogy to disprove the idea that
women should be subservient to men because of their general lack of intellect. She directly
attacks the fact that most women were not as well educated as their male counterparts with: If
my cup wont hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldnt you be mean not to let me have
my little half measure full? Her focus turns from that of the audience of women to the potential
male audience, calling them out for both believing that women could not be as smart and not
allowing equal access to education. Truth then moves to a common Christian belief of that time.
By first calling out the clergy as that little man in black there, she strips them of their power
and general respect in the American community and proceeds to tear apart their argument
vehemently. [The clergy] says women cant have as much rights as men, cause Christ wasnt a
woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a
woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. Again we see Truth using repetition to drive home a
rhetorical question with where did your Christ come from? This magnifies the question to the
point that it is inescapable in the minds of the audience, and it is impossible for them to not think
about it. By then taking the commonplace and using its own facts against it, Truth creates a
strong backing for her logic in a densely Christian country.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation wouldnt come into effect officially until 1863,
and the 19
th
Amendment would not be ratified until 1920, Sojourner Truths speech became
wildly famous, highly influential, and is still well known to this day. Through simple tactics
such as repetition and rebuttal she is able to prove herself to her audience as a credible source,
use emotion to draw them in to her cause, and then provide logical evidence as to why many
commonplaces against women are wrong. Truth overcomes her social boundaries and uses it to
the advantage of herself, other African Americans and other women, in order to try and better
her country.