Tito Matias-Ferreira, Jr.
Mestre em Literatura Comparada (UFRN) /
Professor Efetivo do Ensino Básico, Técnico e Tecnológico (IFRN).

ABSTRACT: “Ain’t I a woman?” is one of the most well known speeches of Sojourner Truth. Such a lecture was delivered at a women’s right convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851. Undoubtedly, Sojourner Truth possessed unique characteristics, which differed from the ones women used to have in the nineteenth century. This article aims at analyzing the ways in which Truth was much more engaged with considerable changes within the society of her time. Hence, Truth herself is a writer who has attributes which enables one to designate her as a woman up ahead from the ones of the 19th century. A woman who had thoughts as well as words that were used like fire to claim for justice, in a time in which women’s words seemed not to have much strength.
KEYWORDS: North American Literature. Sojourner Truth. “Ain’t I a woman”.

RESUMO: “Ain’t I a woman” é um dos mais conhecidos discursos de Sojourner Truth. Essa palestra foi apresentada na convenção dos direitos das mulheres em Akron, Ohio, 1851. Sem dúvida, Sojourner Truth possuía características únicas, que a diferiram das mulheres do século XIX. Este artigo tem por objetivo analisar as formas em que Truth esteve envolvida em mudanças consideráveis ​​na sociedade estadunidense de sua época. Portanto, Sojourner Truth é um autora com atributos que a capacitam como uma mulher à frente daquelas do século 19. Uma mulher que teve pensamentos, assim como palavras que foram usadas como fogo para reivindica por justiça, num tempo em que as palavras das mulheres pareciam não ter muita força.
PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Literatura Estadunidense. Sojourner Truth. “Ain’t I a woman”.

“Ain’t I a woman?” is one of the most well known speeches of Sojourner Truth. Such a lecture was delivered at a women’s right convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851. Undoubtedly, Sojourner Truth possessed unique characteristics, which differed from the ones women used to have in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, she was much more engaged with considerable changes within the society of her time. Hence, Truth is a writer who has attributes which enables one to designate her as a woman up ahead from the ones of her time. A woman who had thoughts as well as words that were used like fire to claim for justice, in a time in which women’s words had no much strength.
Truth was herself an illiterate woman. As she had previously been a slave she did not have the chance to learn neither to write nor read. Accordingly, much of what it is known about her speeches comes from the ones who were able to partake of her lectures, as she was not able to publish any of her words.  Therefore, one is able to read or get acquainted to Truth’s speeches through the words of people who partook of her conferences and meetings in order to develop later what we have as published versions of her speeches.
Although it is quite hard to define Truth’s words, as there is no much guarantee in what it is known about her thoughts due to the fact that such thoughts have been told by the words of others, she can be taken in account as one strong symbol among women writers for the nineteenth century who also influences current writers. In this sense, Truth possesses a considerable role into the world’s Literature as she deals with important issues for not only women and people of color but for the whole society.
“How does it feel to be a problem?” was one of the unasked as well as unanswered questions used by W.E.B. DuBois in her article The Souls of Black Folk, as DuBois felt herself like a problem to the society. Years before that though, Sojourner Truth was aware of such problems which women as well as black folks suffered in the nineteenth century.  Truth was able to talk to audiences in order to clarify import issues to both black and feminist movement. Talking to people about problems enables one to have a feeling of belonging, hence, belonging to a group (Voices from the Harlem Renaissance, p. 3-4).
Truth was a very clever woman and used her witty words to tell women that they had to be part of society but free of domination. In one of her speeches, when asked about her opinion towards women in society, she said that women should not talk about women civil rights but they should better do something about it and try to change the way society acted towards women.
As it has been portrayed throughout centuries, women have had culturally constructed characteristics. For instance, women have been defined to be the fragile sex and too much sensitive. Truth had already argued about such a stereotype and on her main speech “Ain’t I a woman”, she preached:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud – puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?

As it can be understood, such stereotypes would not be applied on Truth’s being as she was herself a black woman, hence, believed to be stronger and also different from other women. According to Truth, women are oppressed, but black women are oppressed twice as they are biased not only by their sex but also by their color. In Rich’s Notes Towards a Politics of Location, such an author enlightens; 

We … often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial – sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual … We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working / economic lives.

Sojourner Truth was able to verbalize those biased concepts towards women for she defended that such features were culturally constructed in order to reinforce that women were not intellectual, or good enough to do intellectual work. On the contrary, women should be protected by men and take care of domestic places. Talking about women’s intellectual abilities, Truth stated in her famous speech “Ain’t I a woman:

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? (A member of audience whispers, “intellect.”) That’s it honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Truth goes against the sexist view in which the domestic realm should be the place where women must stay and cannot move to any other sphere within society and agrees that women should have the same rights men do, such as partaking of important decisions not only in their private sphere (their houses, for instance) but also in the public sphere; actively participating in society as a whole.  Moreover, patriarchal society and sexism are some of the ways to stop women’s development within society.
The idea of domination was also a process which happened not only with women but with Africans as well. As they were displaced from their continent and were forced to learn another language, they had rules of domination, which were imposed on them. Thus, Colonizers became dominators not only of their language, customs but their whole people. Furthermore, Truth fought against prejudice towards black folks as well as for their emancipation.
In the Harlem Renaissance movement, black writers used their abilities to write in order to provoke some changes regarding black people lives, as society had problems towards prejudice and this movement intended to make black folks get aware of their situation within society.  Langston Hughes was one of the major authors from such a movement and from one of his early work I, too, sing America, wrote:

I, too sing America. / I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong. / Tomorrow, / I’ll seat at the table / When company comes. / Nobody’ll dare / Say to me / “Eat in the kitchen,” / Then. / Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed – / I, too, am America.

 Much before such a poem was written, Sojourner Truth had already been trying to change people’s mind and white society hatred towards black people. Truth was aware that the idea of slavery was not over after Africans’ emancipation in the US, as it seemed that black people, even though having attained freedom, were still seen as slaves. She wanted her people to belong to the same group as white people did, therefore being part of society.  Thus, Sojourner Truth fought for black rights after the emancipation, trying to get her people settled in the US as she struggled to get some land to the ones who had nothing and migrated to the North. Truth wanted her people to have not only attained emancipation itself, but also an intellectual emancipation, which would enable them to be part of American society, as they were American themselves.
What is more, Sojourner Truth   wittily spoke in the defense of women, as it was believed that, according to religion, women were dangerous and represented a threat to society. As Truth said in her speech Ain’t I a woman:

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From a God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Truth did not agree with the way women had to behave due to the fact that even the way women dressed up enables one to tell what women represented to society. Such features restricted women’s freedom. She also did not agree with the aspects which were taken into consideration in order to distinguish men from women, such as women’s body, strength and color; as it can be seen in another passage from her lecture Ain’t I a woman:

I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And Ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And Ain’t I a woman?

In conclusion, Sojourner truth is one of the major figures of the Nineteenth – Century Literature as she dealt with important issues from society of her time, which are still presented nowadays. Truth has not only influenced the nineteenth – century society but also major movements from the twentieth century. She plays an important role for the American Feminist movement as well as the Harlem Renaissance movement and the Black Power one, which happened in the beginning of the sixties, as she had previously argued about important matters regarding such movements. For preaching about women and also black folks’ civil rights as, through her speeches, Truth tried to make a change in order to tell society that one is not different from other just because of his / her gender or color and anyone could have fully participation in the society he/ she lived. Thus, Truth’s words were used as fire in order to protest against issues that were important not only to the nineteenth century but to the current world.

Works Cited
DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black folk. Ethnic Studies, Post – Coloniality, and International Studies. 868 – 872.
Gate, Henry Louis; McKAY, Nellie. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. NewYork: Norton, 1997.
Gilbert, Olive. Narrative of Sojourner Truth. New York: Dover, 1997
Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. Words of fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought. NewYork: The New York Press, 1995.
Hughes, Langston. Poems by Langston Hughes. Copyrights: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.
---. I, too, sing America. 1925. Copyrights: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926.
Painter, Neill Irving. Sojourner Truth: A life, a symbol. New York: Norton, 1996.
Wagner-Martin, Linda; DAVIDSON, Cathy N. The Oxford book of women’s writing in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.