Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
The Personal Story of Harriet Jacobs in Her Novel Incidents in The Life Of a Slave Girl
What was it like to be born into slavery and to be treated lesser than the dogs on the plantation? Many people speculate this question and could not imagine how horrible it could have been to be a black person in the slavery era. Harriet Jacobs was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and was later freed and was also an abolitionist speaker and reformer. Jacobs wrote an autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, first serialized in a newspaper and published as a book in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent. It was a reworking of the genres of slave narrative and sentimental novel, and was one of the first books to address the struggle for freedom by female slaves, explore their struggles with sexual harassment and abuse, and their effort to protect their roles as women and mothers.
Harriet Jacobs was one of the most notable abolitionists of her time by simply being a woman, escaping slavery, and becoming an author. Looking back Harriet Jacobs was very important because she was a woman during this time where people were treated less than the dogs on the plantation. According to page 209 Harriet Jacobs was the first person ever from the slavery era to author her own slave narrative. This is very significant because she was a woman and she told her own story of how she grew up during this time period. The book she created was called the Incidents Of A Slave Girl which was made in 1861. She was a very strong woman because, according to page 210, she was born into slavery and did not know that she was a slave until she was six years old when she said her childhood disappeared. In my opinion this is very significant because slavery was a very hard time. People were tested so poorly like they were lesser human beings, they were whipped and fed poorly and were abused especially the women. But Harriet Jacobs was able to create her own book and reflect and remember everything that happened. She also had to grow up and be born into slavery that is a very hard thing to go through because she did not know a different life and that was all that she knew about her life.
The second thing that makes Harriet Jacobs a very important figure during slavery was that she was someone that escaped slavery. She wanted to get away from the plantation extremely bad and you can see by reading page 231 where she said, “The anticipation of being a free woman prove almost too much for my week frame. The excitement stimulated me, in at the same time bewildered me. I’m a busy preparation for my journey and for my son to follow me. I resolve to have an interview with him before I went, that I might give him cautions and advice, and tell him how anxiously I should be waiting for him at the north. ” Another example is on page 234 where she was talking to her son and said “I told him I was now really going to the Free States, and if he was a good, honest boy, and a loving child to his dear old grandmother, the Lord would bless him and bring him to me and we and Ellen would live together. ” These two calls a very important to the nearest of because she raced everything and left behind a lot of people including her grandson in order to get to the Free States. In my opinion although she was very desperate to leave and not suffer any longer and go to freedom I would’ve not left my family members who are close to me behind because if I leave then they will have to suffer even more because the slave owner would be upset that someone escaped in the other slaves didn’t do anything about it. But this just goes to show how significant Harriet Jones worse and that she wanted freedom and not have to continue to be a slave because she was a slave her entire life.
The final reason why Harriet Jacobs was a very important figure in this time is because Harriet Jacobs wrote this entire sleeve narrative. She witnessed death according to page 211 where she said, “When I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time, I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave. My mother’s mistress was the daughter of my grandmothers mistress. ” Another example also on the same page was “When I was nearly 12 years old, my kind mistress sickened and died. As I saw the cheek grow paler, and the eye more glassy, how earnestly I prayed in my heart that she might live! I loved her; for she had been almost like a mother to me. My prayers were not answered. She died, and they buried her in the little churchyard, where, day after day, my tears fell upon her grave. ” These references really support my claim because she detailed a lot of very important things that happened to her throughout her whole life and for a black woman especially someone who was born into slavery to detail such horrific things that happened to her that is very important because people today don’t have to suffer like people did many years ago. Looking back on it makes us realize that we have to reflect on what everything we have gone through to get where we are today. In my opinion this makes Harriet Jacobs even more of an important figure because it paints a vivid image in my mind of how it was back then. Also I did not have much knowledge on who Harriet Jacobs was and reading her narrative made me very interested about who she was. Harriet Jacobs was a significant figure in this era. She suffered through so much and had to go through harsh times just to make it to freedom.
Harriet Jacobs created her own slave narrative and detailed the times of her childhood, to the times she was plotting to escape slavery to after she made it to the free states. She was also a woman and women were abused and treated poorly during this time. Lastly she escaped and lived in the free states never to return and go back. Harriet Jacobs is very important to me because I had little knowledge on who she was before reading her narrative.
A Case Of Violence in Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl
The perception of an African American slave has always been that women and men are incompetent and weak, however in Harriet Jacobs book Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl we receive an in-depth view of what the slaves were forced to endure during the slave period. The sexual advances from Jacobs’ master and his jealous wife’s wrath should have caused her to break and become bitter, but instead of Jacobs becoming submissive, it created a fighting spirit inside of her. Jacobs showed elements of active resistance when she was faced with Dr. Flint’s constant sexual harassment.
Jacobs displays resistance when Dr. Flint first approaches her in a vulgar manner. In chapter four we start to see that Dr. Flint is developing a sexual appetite for Linda (Harriet Jacobs). Linda is now fourteen years old and is a new target for her master’s mind games. Linda expresses his craving for despair when she insists, “master[s], restless, craving, vicious nature roved about [the] day and night, seeking to devour, had just left me” (29). His sights are now set on Linda and he did not waste any time in declaring who she belonged to. Dr. Flint voiced that he can do whatever he wanted to her at any time. Jacobs felt the need to defend her honor at that stage and resisted the act by choosing to ignore his words even though they stung to hear.
Linda displays resistance when she decides to never be conquered. Linda has now been on this plantation for two years and has seen and experienced many horrendous episodes that a fourteen-year-old should not have to endure. She notices that her brother Benjamin is having a difficult time respecting his master and is in the process of running. She advises him to be good, but makes a long-lasting commitment in her mind. Linda declares, “I had not lived fourteen years in slavery for nothing. I had felt, seen, and heard enough, to read the characters, and question the motives, of those around me…I resolved never to be conquered” (31). Jacobs may not have resisted physically, but she was resisting mentally and this led to a long battle between her and Dr. Flint.
Linda portrays elements of resistance through the countless advances Dr. Flint implores on her. Dr. Flint has now been sending Linda countless signals that he wants her. On one of these accounts, he discovered that Linda could write. Now she is being subjected to countless vulgar letters from her master daily. One day she tells him that she is going to tell her grandmother, but he threatens her with death, instead of her feeling any despair she holds on to, “hope of somehow getting out of his clutches” (Jacobs 51). Dr. Flint is constantly trying to break her spirit, but she resists the urge to wallow in despair and remain hopeful that she will be free soon.
Linda shows signs of resistance when she wishes to be married to a free slave. Dr. Flint takes a more obsessive stance when it comes to Linda. He is not very happy about her wanting to marry a free slave man and becomes even more enraged when she declares her love for him. Dr. Flint tries to deter Linda from her choice of a husband but loses his temper when she said, “If he is a puppy I am a puppy, for we are both negro race…The man you call a puppy never insulted me, sir; and he would not love me if he did not believe me to be a virtuous woman” (Jacobs 61). In this instant, she is not willing to consent to his request to marry one of his slaves. This act of resistance causes Dr. Flint to lash out and become even more obsessive toward Linda.
Linda mentally demonstrates resistance by not believing the lies the slave owners say about the north. Slaveholders of this time pride themselves on being honorable men, but “if you were to hear the enormous lies they tell their slaves, you would have small respect for their veracity.” (Jacobs 67) Their main job was to instill fear in their slaves so they would not leave the plantation. Many slaves believed this story, but not Linda. She voices that opinion by saying that, “intelligent slaves are aware that they have many friends in the Free States. Even the most ignorant have some confused notions about it” (69). Linda knows there is help in the North, and since she has this feeling of hope she is resisting the mindset Dr. Flint is diligently trying to force on her.
Linda displays elements of resistance when she gets pregnant. Linda has now sent her lover away for fear of him being harmed by Dr. Flint. Now Dr. Flint is hacking a plan to build her a house so he can have easy access to peruse her. As a slave, she had no right to refuse his offer. Now Linda is left to perform an act that is against her character to stay out of Dr. Flint’s clutches. Linda decided to take a lover at the age of fifteen as to stop Dr. Flints advances. Linda expresses her triumph after she tells Flint that, “I will never go there. In a few months [,] I shall be a mother “(Jacobs 87). Linda has made a very big stand against Dr. Flint by getting pregnant by another man since she is his property in body and mind. Linda’s pregnancy is a major act of resistance since he did not want anyone else to touch her but him.
Linda experienced many events in her life that caused her to grow up faster than the average child should, but manages to escape by the help of her grandmother and a few white friends. Until the end of the story, Linda continues to reject Dr. Flints advances and soon finds herself in a very lucky position in the end. Linda held on to her view of not being conquered by anyone, male or female and ended up being a free woman. Harriet Jacobs truly does embody resistance in this book, Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl.
Hardships That Slave Women Faced in Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl
Though a keystone in the development of American history and culture, the American slave trade was extremely detrimental to both the physical and mental well being of African American slaves. The system tended to be particularly brutal and demeaning for enslaved women, often depriving them of the ability to refuse an unwanted sexual advance. In her biography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs describes the hardships slave women faced, exclaiming “Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own” (Martin 100). In the American Slave Trade, women were viewed as nothing more than a piece of property to be used by one’s master. This view led many slave masters to feel entitled to dictate every aspect of their slave’s lives, demanding anything they wished for their own benefit and pleasure, often without a thought as to the emotional or physical harm that may that may result. This often extended to female slaves sexual relations and many woman were raped or coerced into performing sexual acts with their masters or other men. With very little chance of avoiding their masters unwanted sexual advances, women often ended up “bearing children who would engender the rage of a master’s wife, and from whom they might be separated forever as a result” (National).
Harriet Jacobs and Valerie Martin, two esteemed authors, each explore the theme of sexual exploitation within the American slave institution in their respective works Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Property. They approach the issue from distinct perspectives, depicting the adversities suffered by women within the slave institution in seemingly contrasting ways, one from an African American slave and one from a white slave owner’s wife. Yet, despite the disparity in situation, they draw many parallels and illustrate a surprising amount of agreement on the horrendous conditions slave women were forced to endure. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an autobiography in which escaped slave Harriet Jacobs recounts her life’s story. She tells of her experiences growing up as a slave and the lengths to which she went to eventually find freedom for herself and her children. Property, on the other hand is a fictional novel written by Valerie Martin from the perspective of a white slave owner’s wife, Manon, who is unable to bear children and suffers at the hands of her cruel husband. Despite expressing the theme of sexual exploitation from differing perspectives and utilizing different literary tools to do so, both stories expose the devastating nature of the horrors women were forced to bear with no choice but to submit to the deviant desires of their masters.
Not only does the depiction of sexual exploitation differ between Incidents and Property, but the literary methods used by each author to enhance the readers understanding of this theme also differs between the two works. In Incidents, Harriet Jacobs focuses on metaphor and biblical allusion as tools to enhance the theme of sexual exploitation as her character, a victim of sexual harassment, uses her position of interest to another man to fight for freedom from life as a slave. Valerie Martin, in Property, however tends to focus on using foreshadowing and rhetorical questions as tools to enhance her understanding of sexual exploitation. Each of these helps in the readers understanding of the sexual exploitation Manon experiences and witnesses both as the wife of a slave owner and her own abuse by her controlling husband.
Throughout Incidents, Jacobs uses metaphor as a tool to enhance the theme of sexual exploitation and abuse. A metaphor makes a comparison between two dissimilar things in order to provide clarity or reveal hidden commonalities. When describing the often-inescapable melancholy feelings that weigh on a slave girl, she uses the metaphor “every where the years bring all enough of sin and sorrow; but in slavery the very dawn of life is darkened by these shadows” (Jacobs 34). Jacobs is comparing the creation of life to the sun as it rises, bringing with it a new day yet she states that for a slave this new beginning is darkened by the shadows of sin and sorrow. This creates a powerful image in the readers mind with dawn, typically referring to the brightening of a new day and new opportunities, being darkened by the burden of a life of slavery before the sun even has a chance to fully rise. This metaphor refers, specifically to Jacobs’ description of the interactions between herself, her mistress, and her master and the rampant jealousy many mistresses hold for the young slave girls who capture the sexual attentions of their mistresses’ husbands. These young girls have no chance of escape and yet instead of pity or kindness, they receive jealous hate.
An allusion, in literature, is a passing reference to something well known by the audience in order to bring something specific to mind. In addition to metaphor, Jacobs uses biblical allusions to explore sexual exploitation in her story of growing up as a slave before eventually managing to gain freedom. She refers to Mark 12:31 and Matthew 7:12 in the first chapter when she explains that her first master, whom as a child she saw as kind, taught her the read and of the bible and commandments stating she learned “Though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself… [and] Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them” (Jacobs 9). Here, Jacobs cleverly shows the reader her realizations that, despite the religious influence she was exposed to as a young girl, her masters would never treat her as she understood the bible to command. In reference to her master, she says “I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor” (Jacobs 9). Here, the presence of these extremely well recognized biblical allusions creates a clear juxtaposition between how Jacobs is taught a person should be treated and the treatment she actually receives due to her dark skin color and circumstances of her birth. She makes a clear statement about the morality issues in slavery, comparing the actions of her masters to the highest source of ethics and morality she knows. She feels that “God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or the horses they tend” (Jacobs 9). Her placement as a slave negates her acceptance as a human being and even the most kind and religious master will mistreat her according to the biblical lessons she recalls from her childhood. This lack of humanity placed on slaves, particularly slave women, is what allows them to be treated as property and their masters to feel no guilt in forcing their own sexual desires or inflicting emotional or physical damage on a slave. Jacobs comes to recognize that her feelings are of no consequence to her masters, for even the most god-fearing white slave master can justify their actions through their view that slaves are not humans worthy of their compassion.
Foreshadowing is a warning or subtle indication of an important event that may happen later in the plot. In the novel Property by Valerie Martin, foreshadowing is utilized to illustrate the severity and commonness of sexual exploitation of women in the slave institution. Sarah is a slave who’s youth and beauty, coupled with her mistress’ unhappiness and inability to have children leads her master to coerce her into performing sexual acts for his pleasure. Martin uses foreshadowing to illustrate that sexual harassment often came as no surprise to female slaves, stating that Sarah “was looking past [Manon], with an expression of sullen expectation, at my husband” (Martin 20). While at this point nothing has explicitly been mentioned about sexual exploitation or sexual interest in Sarah, foreshadowing has already begun to hint at its inevitability. Sarah is sullen and expectant of it, revealing the terrible reality of how common sexual exploitation of slave women is as well as her inability to do anything to prevent herself from being violated by he master. Sarah’s natural beauty and her master’s crude advances will leave her in a position where she cannot escape her masters desires and as such will be hated by his wife, Manon and lose any chance she might have had at protection. This inevitability and the impossible situation so many slave women have been placed in becomes even more obvious with the statement “By the end of that year, Sarah was pregnant” (Martin 24).
Valerie Martin also utilizes the rhetorical question as an effective method of examining the theme of sexual exploitation in Property. A rhetorical question is a question with the purpose of forcing the reader to think about something in depth without having to explain everything in the context of the novel. In Property, Manon poses the question to the doctor “Would the fact that the servant I brought to the marriage has borne him a son, and that creature is allowed to run loose in the house like a wild animal, would that be, in your view, sufficient cause for a wife to despise her husband?” (Martin 38). Not only is the doctor not in the least bit surprised by this revelation, but he goes on to suggest that this simply implies Manon must be the reason the couple has not had any children yet and not her husband. Rape and sexual exploitation of a slave woman is so common that it is simply overlooked as something that’s bound to happen and of no one’s concern. This is the true, appalling nature of the slave trade industry; it strips a slave of their basic human rights, their humanity and casts them out as nothing more than a piece of property to be used and abused as their owners wish.
Property and Incidents both represent the harsh realities of sexual exploitation and abuse experienced by female slaves in the American institution of slavery. Despite approaching the issue from different perspectives and utilizing different methods to enhance the understanding of these issues, both authors successfully draw on the reader’s emotions and sympathies, exposing the hopelessness and desperation that often accompanies these awful situations. Both novels examine the lengths many slave women would go to in order to attempt to avoid these unwanted attentions and forced sexual submission, despite understanding how hopeless their situation might be. While it is very rare that any attempt to rebel against their masters demands would be successful, and the risks of severe punishment are high, many woman grasp at any chance they might have of saving themselves from their masters sick desires. The truth that is revealed about the nature of sexual exploitation in relation to American slavery in each of these works is truly appalling.
A Presence Of Author in Life Of a Slave Girl
In the history of literature, authors have chosen to use a pseudonym for many reasons. A pseudonym is a fake name used by an author in order to conceal his or her real identity, often for the author’s protection or to avoid prejudices that might otherwise prevent many individuals from reading the author’s work. In the case of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs chose to write under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Jacobs wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl as a slave narrative, which diverged greatly from the typical style and structure of slave narratives of the time, which were typically written by men in the hope of gaining white sympathy and support for abolition. Her narrative discussed many subjects- such as sexual abuse of female slaves- that, in general, would not be well received. She chose to use a pseudonym as a way of protecting herself and her relatives, namely her grandmother and children. Jacobs used Linda Brent to tell her story. Through Linda, Jacobs gives herself a voice and the power to voice the truth about the hardships she and many other slaves faced. Once can imagine that it cannot be easy to write one’s own life story, especially one that is filled with so much trauma, abuse, and oppression. Linda Brent, it would seem, allows Harriet Jacobs to discuss the truth of her life- the cruelty she faced at the hands of her master’s, the relationship that developed between her and her grandmother, the losses she endured, her struggle to free her own children- without revealing their identities and endangering their lives. Through the use of Linda, she creates a protective layer of pseudonyms between herself and her family and the telling of her story. Emotionally, Linda helps Jacobs cope with telling her tragic story; allowing herself to tell “Linda’s story” when describing her own painful experiences. Harriet uses Linda to create a connection with her reader. She connects with women, no matter their race, as she frequently refers to the reader and attempts to justify her actions.
A metaphor, used in literature, is a way to create a comparison between a situation or experience of a character and something familiar to the reader. It allows an author to emphasize the relevance of a situation within the literature by creating a parallel with something that is more easily relatable or familiar to the audience. Metaphors often establish imagery and allow a deeper connection to form with the reader’s emotions. In chapter 5 of Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Linda Brent describes the advances made on her, starting at the age of 15, by her master and the relationship that develops between her and Ms. Flint. She goes on to give an allegory, a tale of two young sisters who once played together. One was white, the other her black slave. No matter how happy the two young girls appeared, Linda knows that their paths would inevitably diverge. The white girl would grow into a gracefully easy life, her “pathway blooming with flowers”, while for the young slave, who was “also, was very beautiful”, “ the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink” (Jacobs, 36). The metaphor perfectly contrasts the lives the two young girls will face. The flowers and sunshine clearly showing the reader the comparative ease and happiness with which the beautiful white child will liver her life. While her sister, a slave to her skin color will be forced into a life of sin and shame. She will lose her innocence and outgrow her childhood years before her white sister. She will be forced to “drink the cup of sin”, she will be degraded, abused, and humiliated because she is viewed as nothing more than the property of another human being. She is not a person, she will not be loved as her white sister, but rather used and humiliated by the system that forces this shame upon her. Harriet knows all too well the fate of this still innocent child, as she herself finds her innocence being brutally ripped from her grasp. At only 15, she has already lost any hope of protection from this cruel life; she has been forced to drink from the cup, and will never again be the happy child who knows nothing of the way she is viewed, the way she will always be treated. Harriet, as every slave child before her, has had to face the cruelty of the system, an experience from which she will never recover, never regain her innocence. She will never be able to cast away the sin and shame and misery that were forced upon her. She will she never forget this cruelty that destroyed her childhood, for no other reason than she was born a black slave.
An allusion is a reference in literature that usually requires the reader to have some familiarity with the source that is being referenced. Allusion can be a very powerful tool if the reader grasps it’s intended significance. Allusions are typically quite passive or casual and require the reader to be familiar with the person, place, thing, or work, which is referenced in order to recognize that there was indeed an allusion and understand the subtleties and oftentimes thematic importance stated within that allusion. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs alludes to the Bible in several instances. In Chapter 1, Jacobs utilizes a biblical allusion that seems to carry a special significance. Her master taught her of the Gospels and the commandments. She was taught “the precepts of God’s Word: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them’ ”(Jacobs 9). The very person who taught her how people are supposed to be treated owned her as a slave. This juxtaposition holds a special significance when understanding the life of a slave. She was taught ethics, taught to treat others as she would want to be treated, taught that she is a human and thus deserves to be treated well, by a master who owned her as though she were nothing more than property. While her master, before she died, was kind, she nonetheless owned her and treated her as property to be owned and cared for. Because of her skin tone, she would never be considered “a neighbor”, worthy of the treatment the bible claimed to be right. The bible itself depicts harshly the life of a slave, violence and brutality obvious, despite the supposed belief that all of God’s creations should be treated with kindness and respect. Harriet must come to terms with this reality as she reconciles her religion with the life she must live.
Sexual attentions from a master to a slave were, unfortunately, quite common. A girl born into slavery likely had to deal with unwanted sexual attentions from a young age. Harriet, harrowed by her master for sexual favors like many young women in slavery, had to decide her reaction. Should she fight and risk humiliation and jealousy or retaliation from her master’s wife, or should she submit. Harriet choses to father the children of Mr. Sands. Her children’s names are Benny and Ellen. She makes this choice in order to escape the sexual attentions of Dr. Flint, who has pursued her since she was 15. Harriet was also wary of Ms. Flint, who was clearly jealous of Dr. Flint’s advancements. Harriet is desperate to escape the sexual interests of Dr. Flint because she considers him a horrid man, who “peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust and hatred” (Jacobs 34). Harriet was determined not to stray from her morals, she was strongly committed to maintaining herself as her grandmother had taught her. However, Dr. Flint was very persistent, and she eventually had to no choice but to turn to Mr. Sands, a kinder man than Dr. Flint for help. Mr. Sanders is eventually able to buy Harriet from Dr. Flint. Her choice was made with her future children in mind, as she was well aware that whomever she became sexually involved with would likely father her children. She states that “Of a man who was not my master I could ask to have my children well supported; and in this case, I felt confident I should obtain the boon” (Jacobs 71). Above anything else, she wishes to never allow Dr. Flint to father her children, and as such makes the agreement with Mr. Sands. For a slave, such sexual situations re-enforce the ownership of a master over his slaves, his ability to control his property and the sexual manipulation that was rampant, with a slave making impossible decisions with the hope of one day earning their freedom, and the freedom of their children.
Chapter 10 of Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, discusses the aftermath of the Nat Turner insurrection, a rebellion in which uprising slaves killed over 50 people. She discusses the race relations that exist between African American slaves and the impoverished (non slave owning) white population. In discussing the uprising, she states that the chaos and fear in the aftermath of the slave rebellion “was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of their own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little brief authority, and show their subserviency to the slaveholders; not reflecting that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept themselves in poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation” (Jacobs, 82). In the aftermath of the insurrection, white men, even those who owned no slaves, terrorized black men, women, and children out of fear of a potential threat. This went far beyond the normal fear and degradation experienced by the slaves, escalating to terrifying levels of violence. Soldiers tore the homes of slaves apart, searching every nook and cranny, not caring what they damaged along the way, all with the approval of the slave owners.
Black slaves, with no other choice, relied on their masters for protection. Even impoverished whites, who suffered poverty and degradation, who lived lives not so different from those of the slaves, held themselves as superior. Instead of having compassion for those who suffered similarly, and often so much worse than they did, they jumped at the opportunity to assert their superiority. They were proud to be treated better than the black slaves, and felt even prouder when they were the one’s to subject the slaves such terrible treatment. They did not own slaves, and thus held no status or power. Yet, though they lived lives similar to those of slaves, and in some cases lived in worse conditions, they still felt superior simply because of the color of their skin allowed them to be free. They used the brutal attacks on blacks to make themselves feel more important and justify their feelings of superiority.
In Chapter 15, Jacobs states that “My Master had power and law on his side, I had determined will. There is might in each” (Incidents 110). Through this, Linda (Harriet) is showing that despite all she has been told and despite the hardships she has faced, she still considers herself human being. She is not a piece of property only to be bought and sold, but rather is a human being with will and the power to chose. Through her actions, and in the chapter, she tells the reader that slaves are not objects. They are human beings who deserve love and kindness and the basic rights that have, for so long, been denied them. In this chapter, the reader really begins to grasp the strength that Linda (Harriet) possesses. Her master, Dr. Flint, has tried more than once to force Linda into a sexual relationship. In this chapter, he goes so far as to offer freedom for her children in exchange for her to submit to him as his mistress. He promises her that if she submits, she will not only free her children from this life, but will be allowed to live with them. Through Linda’s insistence that she still has a “determined will” that matches her master’s power, and her continued resistance to submit herself to him, we see both fight her abuse and establish her humanity. After everything she has experienced, she still has the strength to resist; fighting for a better life, she choses not to believe the lies she knows Dr. Flint is telling. By maintaining her will and outsmarting her master, Linda has demonstrated her incredible strength and asserted her own humanity. She has shown that slaves are not simply property to be bought, but human beings who have strong wills and deserve to be treated as such.
In both Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and A True Tale of Slavery, we see a first hand account of life as a slave, written after they have found some sense of freedom. We see a dichotomy in the experiences of Harriet and John that is largely dependent on gender, yet there are also great similarities between the two. Thematically, the two share a striking resemblance. Both John and Harriet find themselves on a quest for freedom, navigating their fear and suffering, finding support in their families, and battling their master’s for their right to exert free will, for their right to be considered human. Unlike Harriet, John does not have to suffer through the sexual harassment Harriet has dealt with most of her life and in his narrative, John seems to focus more on the larger institution of slavery while Harriet, to some extent, focuses more on the treatment of women within the system. In chapter 7, John states that “Since I cannot forget that I was a slave, I will not forget those that are slaves. What I would have done for my liberty I am willing to do for theirs, whenever I can see them ready to fill a freeman’s grave, rather than wear a tyrant’s chain” (Incidents 291). Both John and Harriet seek, and eventually find freedom, yet they are not content to hide away and only be free themselves. John states that he will fight just as hard for another man’s freedom as he did his own, and we see the incredible efforts Harriet expends to try and free her children from slavery. Both Harriet and John express a desire to gain their freedom completely, not to be on the run for the rest of their lives. With the Fugitive Slave Act, they both recognized how futile it would likely be to spend their entire lives running from their masters. While perhaps not living the life of a slave, so long as they must run, they can never truly be free. John and Harriet seek total freedom from their masters, from the fear, degradation, and cruelty that they had known for most of their lives.
The analysis of book by Harriet Jacobs “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”
Slavery has been the wicked phenomena in the world. Slavery is very unnatural and aggravates mixed outlooks from the perspective of every person. Some of the people still face slavery in the present times. Other people do not necessarily understand that a person can treat another individual as a slave. In definition, slavery is one of the first forms of exploitation, where the slave becomes the property of a slave owner. The book by Harriet Jacobs (2009), “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” provides the description of slavery in America. The author of the book is the narrator herself in the book and she describes the life as a slave. In the autobiography, she recounts the experiences before she was fled from the slavery and she portrayed the sexual history while she was a slave. Slavery in America was a legal institution of the human chattel enslavement, majorly the African Americans and the Africans who lived in the country in the 18th and 19th centuries after the independence of the nation and before the American civil war ended. Slavery was practiced in America from the colonial era and it was legal at the period of the declaration of independence in the year 1776.
Realization of the slavery
During Harriet early life, she did not realize that she was a slave and she lived with her father and mother in a relatively secure and comfortable life. They lived together with her extended family. This was not common for a number of reasons the first being that Harriet came from the family which was unclear and she was never treated poorly when she was a child. “They lived together in a comfortable home; and, though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be demanded of them at any moment.” Harriet Jacobs, p. 7. Even though her parents passed away when she was young, the grandmother was the central figure in her life and she was able to provide her with security, comfort, unrelenting love and moral guidance. When Harriet realized that she was a slave she was startled and when she learned that she was never going to reverse this information and she stuck in the psychological trauma of having the knowledge that she was just a piece of property.
Justification of slavery
One of the methods which the slaveholders were justifying the slavery was through the enforcing of the claim that the slaves were not actually human beings. They were barbarous, inferior and savage is all kinds of ways. The slave who thought that he poses the values of tried to inoculate similar values in the other slaves was seen dangerous and most oppressed. The father of Harriet tried to teach his kids that they had their worth but this was against the desire of the slaveholder to be able to keep the slaves dumb and docile. Benjamin the uncle to Harriet also proclaimed his self-rule and by refusing to obey the master he was punished severely.
Female Discourse in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Beyond the brutalities that all slaves endured, females suffered the additional anguish of sexual exploitation and the deprivation of motherhood. In “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Harriet Jacobs focuses on racial subjugation but also gives voice to a different kind of captivity that men impose on women regardless of color. This form of bondage is not only exacted from women by men, but also accepted and perpetuated by women themselves. Jacobs’ narrative gives a true account of the unique struggles of female slaves, a perspective that has received relatively little historical attention, and how even within this tremendously challenging situation one can strive for liberation.
Community and personal relations are portrayed as a key element in shaping the female slave’s experience. Jacobs attributes the success of her escape to a communal effort, but the importance of relationships in her narrative extends far beyond this aspect of her story. First, the slave mother’s central concern is her relationship with her children. This relationship is the reason Jacobs does not escape when she might, but later it is the reason she becomes determined to do so. By emphasizing the importance of family and home throughout her narrative, Jacobs connects it to universal values with which her Northern readers will empathize. She goes on to point out that the happy home and family are those blessings from which slave women are excluded.
Jacobs reveals that she was taught to read and spell by her first mistress. Her ability to read makes her vulnerable to her master’s harassment; he begins pressing his immoral attentions on her through vulgar notes, which forces Jacobs to feign illiteracy. After Jacobs escapes to the North, her former master continues to harass her through letters, sometimes threatening her and other times attempting to lure her into returning. While her ability to read makes Jacobs vulnerable to her master’s abuse, it is, nonetheless, a source of power for her. For example, even before she reaches the North she is able to arrange for her letters to be sent from several northern cities.
Jacobs’ decision to take a white man other than her master as a lover is more complex than a ‘poor choice’ that rejects virtue in favor of illicit sex. The choice of virtue and marriage is denied to her, and Jacobs’ only opportunity for asserting her sovereignty lies in the act of choosing. She chooses one illicit union over another, explaining, “It seems less degrading to give one’s self, than to submit to compulsion. There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment” (71). Jacobs accepts responsibility for her choice, emphasizing that she “did it with a deliberate calculation” (70). While she aspires to the same ideals of virtue and purity as her white readers, she stresses that for the slave girl, and the conditions of slavery, this ideology is simply unattainable. Jacobs fully acknowledges her transgressions against conventional sexual morality when she was a slave girl. At the same time, however, she articulates an indisputable truth—that the morality of free white women has little ethical relevance or authority when applied to the situation of enslaved black women in the South.
Even at the end of the narrative, after Jacobs is freed, she has not fulfilled her desire in attaining her own home. No longer legally bound to a white master, she still feels morally bound to the woman who has bought and freed her, and thus she remains a domestic servant in another woman’s home. Jacobs identifies the institution of slavery as the source of misery and believes it to be the primary threat to the ideals of home and family that her readers value. The threat of slavery to the domestic ideal is most evident in its indifferent dismantling of slave families, separating parents from children for monetary gain. At the same time, Jacobs describes the misery that slavery causes in white slaveholding families, with the shameless acts of the master detracting from the morality and happiness of his entire family. Harriet Jacobs vividly depicts the horrors suffered by the female slave.
The Difference Between the Lives of Black & Whites During Slavery in Harriet Jacobs’ Book “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”
Glancing through the critical lens of Mary Louise Pratt, we can see different contact zones in Harriet Jacobs book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. An obvious is the difference between the lives of black and whites during slavery, and different zones lie underneath the skin and involve relationships and connections. Most eminent are the connections that Harriet Jacobs joined amid her vicarious servitude. We can see many contact zones in her book, for example, the general battle of oppression and freedom, her association with Mr. Sands, Mr. Flint and the readers.
The topic of contact zones lies in the purposeless battling among freedom and subjugation. Harriet Jacobs is in a consistent battle in physical, and mental domain. Pratt depicts the zones as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as slavery.” Pratt highlights the fundamental issue with Jacobs, slavery. In this account of bondage, we see the social spaces, connections and battling that Pratt talks so articulately of.
First their social space is never sufficiently substantial. They are constantly held down and mistreated. Wherever life may take them they will always be in chains. Their masters on the other hand control whom they will see and know. In other words they will control their relationships. They are in complete domination of another person constantly being mistreated and used. A statement from Abraham Lincoln describers the third angle, the fight occurring, “Slavery is founded on the selfishness of man’s nature – opposition to it on his love of justice. These principles are in eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.”
To summarize, he portrays the fighting smoothly – constantly battling, never very still. The relationship between Mr. Sands and Jacobs is a prime example that falls under the contact zone. As we probe this connection among Jacobs and Mr. Sands, it is fascinating to inspect how this contact zone was made, why it was kept up for so long, and how this contact zone clashed with other contact zones and within itself.
The start of this contact zone was on the activity of Mr. Sands. He continually looked for chances to see Jacobs, and wrote letters to Jacobs as often as possible. His sensitivity and his aching to help her energized Jacobs and complimented her because she viewed him as a superior person and was to gain his attention meant a lot. It is intriguing to take note of that the contact zone among Jacobs and Mr. Sands happened outside the bounds of slavery; but it does not take away the fact that her being a slave had a lot to do with their relationship. Also, it was a companionship that wasn’t constrained upon Jacobs by subjugation, rather a consensual relationship from both sides.
Despite the fact that this relationship was not profoundly unbalanced like Jacobs and Dr. Flint’s relationship, Jacobs takes note of distance and social class between them, and we can see the conflict inside it while looking into the reasons that this relationship proceeded. In looking at Jacobs’ explanations behind proceeding with this relationship, we discover three intriguing reasons. Initially, she expressed “there is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment.” So we see that Mr. Sands honeyed words and sensitivity had persuaded Jacobs it was a “great thing to have such a friend” in Mr. Sands.
Jacobs acknowledged rapidly what new potential outcomes this relationship offered with respect to exact retribution on Dr. Flint. She contemplated, “I knew nothing would enrage Dr. Flint so much as to know that I favored another; and it was something to triumph over my tyrant even in that small way.” Along these lines, we see that Jacobs hauled out of this relationship whatever she can for herself and utilized it for her leverage, which is justifiable in her situation. This is likewise clear in the third reason she specified for proceeding with this relationship. She clarified this reason in this explanation, “I thought [Dr. Flint] would revenge himself by selling me, and I was sure my friend, Mr. Sands, would buy me.
I thought my freedom could be easily obtained from him.” Now that we’ve looked at Jacobs perspective of this relationship through contact zones, let us move to the reasons Mr. Sands facilitates this relationship. In examining for Mr. Sands’ reasons the content does not talk plainly on this issue as it does for Jacobs point of view. Although, a perception can be made for Mr. Sands’ reasons in view of Jacobs’ responses and reactions. I think that it’s fascinating that a white, unmarried man would take such a great amount of enthusiasm for a youthful, African-American slave girl. She expressed, “it chanced that a white unmarried gentleman had obtained some knowledge of the circumstances in which I was placed. He knew my grandmother.”
At first, his reasons appear to be exclusively reliable and earnest as he endeavored to help Jacobs in her troublesome situation. In any case, Jacobs made no say of Mr. Sands taking interests in Dr. Flint’s different slaves. Wouldn’t Mr. Sands have acknowledged as Jacobs expressed, “He was an educated and eloquent gentleman; too eloquent, alas, for the poor slave girl who trusted in him.” One can envision how Mr. Sands could have utilized this further, bolstering his good fortune and spoke to Jacobs, who was 15 at the time, by regarding her as an equivalent individual and playing to her feelings.
Moreover, Jacobs expressed that “the wrong does not seem so great with an unmarried man,” and we discover later that Jacobs was a soon to be mother. Consequently, we can reason that Mr. Sands’ motivations were not absolutely true. There was clearly something more to his goals, conceivably even from the earliest starting point of their relationship. Might I venture to inquire? Could this be on the grounds that this poor slave girl was believed to be simple prey by the informed and expressive man of his word Mr. Sands? Since we have addressed Mr. Sands’ reasons, how about we proceed onward to how this contact zone caught and conflicted with other contact zones and with Jacobs’ ideals.
The greatest impact this relationship appeared to have is on Jacobs. In the wake of telling Dr. Flint that she would have been a mother, promptly she expressed, “My self-respect was gone! and now, how humiliated I felt!” We can see here that this relationship or contact zone conflicted with who Jacobs needed to be. She expressed, “I had resolved that I would be virtuous, though I was a slave. I had said, ‘Let the storm beat! I will brave’.” Another contact zone this relationship conflicted with is the one among Jacobs and Dr. Flint.
We see from Dr. Flint’s announcement to Jacobs, “‘you are my slave, and shall always be my slave. I will never sell you, that you may depend on’,” that this association with Mr. Sands exploded backward on Jacobs and drove Dr. Flint to something she had not anticipated. One of the advantages Jacobs needed to escape to freedom was her association with Mr. Sands as her opportunity. In any case, we see from that explanation that Dr. Flint was so irritated by this relationship that he would not ever offer her.
The following contact zone this relationship disturbed is the one among Jacobs and her grandma. At the point when Jacobs went to admit that she would have been mother to her grandma, Jacobs was requested to leave and shut the door on the way out “with a sound I never heard before.” She requested to see her grandma later in the story and she at long last came to Jacobs. Jacobs expresses that her grandma, “did not say, ‘I forgive you’; but she looked at me lovingly,” and felt sorry for Jacobs. Since we have now inspected the contact zone among Jacobs and Mr. Sands, let us investigate Harriet Jacob’s association with her owner Dr. Flint who mistreated her in sexual and emotional ways.
Review of Mary Rowlandson’s Biography, the House Slave, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Slavery is a common literature issue that is mentioned in works from the past and present day. Despite its negative connotations and implications of abuse, slavery is a common practice for a large portion of the world still. Slavery is a means for cheap labor, easy exploitation and to do illegal activities via another individual. However, in the three following personal narratives, the female protagonists share a common character trait: strength. Despite being in scenarios and situations that succumb to powerless roles for women, each heroine is able to give a glimpse of a future that embodies powerful actions by women, instead of having to wait on a man to assist them. All give women the hope and motivation to retain strength, despite society’s standards and their withheld positions.
In Mary Rowlandson’s autobiography on her own experiences as a Native American captive, she transforms from a frail damsel in distress to an independent spirit. Though Mary is terrified about being captured, she remains to have high spirits regardless of her current living situation. Since Mary is more optimistic, the tribe is friendlier with her as well. In one instance, Mary is given food to eat that is plentiful, because she passes the tribe’s test. “Another squaw gave me a piece of fresh pork, and a little salt with it, and lent me her pan to fry it in; and I cannot but remember what a sweet, pleasant and delightful relish that bit had to me, to this day” is one of the many positive points from Mary during her captured state (Rowlandson, 177).
The most obvious reason for Mary’s strength due to her faith in Jesus Christ and God. She realizes that to make it alive out of her condition, she must be on friendly terms with the same people who captured her. The longer that Mary is there, the more she connects biblical text with the everyday life interactions around her. For example, Mary uses the following verse to show her appreciation to the Native woman who feeds her: “He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives (Psalm 106.46) [Rowlandson, 174].” Mary’s constant use of biblical text begin to rub off on the tribe, who finally agrees to free her. Mary’s survival was solely based on her consistency to show she is harmless. In the House Slave, however, the strength of the servant goes further.
Dove’s “The House Slave” is a literature piece that gives many the visualization of slavery that they have been anticipating. Instead of being a true story told, The House Slave is a basic summary of how the majority of African slaves feel with a slight plot twist at the end. As Dove insists, “The first horn lifts its arm over the dew-lit grass and in the slave quarters there is a rustling (Dove, 1384),” describes the true environment of slavery in the United States. There was not peace in this era; instead, the slaves were expected to get up and start on their jobs, whether or not their masters were awake as well. They were to follow through with the orders or to be beaten. Chore began at this time, but the main character was not on the same wavelength as her peers.
Instead, she is describing these incidents with slaves waking up for the morning and already being tormented with nostalgia. Her sister yells, “Oh! Pray!” sounds at first like she is trying to save the main character from an incident. However, the case is different: she has already escaped. It is a nightmare that the slave is enduring, regretting that her family was left behind. “I weep. It is not yet daylight (Dove, 1385),” is reminiscing on the dream of her memories, but not regretting her decision to leave. She was strong enough to be on her cot, by herself, but she remembers the family she had to leave behind to have the life she does. However, it does not take away her memories, which has her feeling guilty for not bringing her sister along. Harriet Jacobs relates to Dove in her own autobiography, stating a sense of guilty and nervousness for being an intersectional case of slavery.
Harriet Jacobs was the first ever freed female slave to write a book on her circumstances. She is the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which narrates her upbringing from her days as a slave to when she was able to be freed by her friend. Jacobs disguised the story as being her own when calling the main character Linda, but she also wants the Northern population to be aware of the circumstances of slaves living in the South. Considered a fugitive to the South, Jacobs ends up accomplishing her goal after many years of abuse. Sadly, she had to even relinquish the right to ever see her children, who were also being enslaved, despite an agreement to keep their children safe from the grips of the slavery system.
Jacob’s (or Linda’s) tipping point was seeing the treatment of her children in the North and the treatment of slaves in the system. As she summarizes her point, “I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks (Jacobs, 619),” Jacobs makes note of how slavery affects all. Though she was able to use psychological tactics and manipulation to save herself from her master’s lust, she also knew that plenty were victimized. She also knew that it hurt the white families as well, in the comments about the system. “It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched,” optimizes the viewpoint of Jacob’s, which is to give slaves their independence and end a vicious cycle, that continues to spread like a disease in the South.
For Jacobs and Dove’s character, slavery continued thanks to the pigment in their skin. While Mary was a white woman who was released, she also had to use tactics to be freed. All three showed mental strength in their arguments and discussions, noting how one must be willing to break the world to be freed or gain their freedom. Despite the knowledge of the Native American and European fights and the African slave trade, slavery still happens today, with the majority of it involving sex slavery in human trafficking. If there is anything these three female characters taught the audience, it is how to stand up for yourself in incidences that are not right, and how to continue to be a strong person, despite what society wants from you.
Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl By Harriet Jacobs: The Real Slaves’ Life And Religion
The book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is an important piece of writing that sheds light on what life as a slave was really like. The book goes into detail about the terrible things that happened to one slave named Linda. This book also gives examples of how the many slave owners that claimed to be Christian disobeyed so many of the rules, but most commonly the 10 Commandments. Many slave owners would use religion as a way to make sure that they had a clean reputation and as a cover if any rumors about them started to spread. This book also shows how slavery didn’t just have negative effects on slaves, but on slave holder’s wives and families.
One of the main historical events that happened during the book was Nat Turner’s rebellion. This was the first and only effective slave revolt that happened in the south. This rebellion resulted in the murder of 51 white people and scared other white settlers in the south. The Fugitive Slave Acts were another important historical event that happened during the writing of the book. These laws stated that any runaway slaves that escaped to the north could be captured and returned to their masters in the south.
When Linda was born a slave but, “never knew it” because Linda’s family lived in a comfortable home and weren’t treated how slaves typically were at the time. Linda faced a hard time, when at the age of six Linda’s mother passed leaving only her brother William, her father, and grandmother. The mistress that owned Linda’s mother takes responsibility for Linda, the mistress doesn’t makes Linda work hard but, the mistress does teach Linda how to read the bible. It was very rare for masters to want their slaves to be educated so Linda learning how to read was something that rarely happened for slaves. When Linda is 12 the mistress dies and in the will Linda and William are given to the mistress’ niece, 5 year-old Emily Flint. All that Linda and William have known so far are kind masters, when the siblings arrive at the Flint house hold it is completely different from how Linda and William have been treated their whole lives.
A year after being at the Flint household Linda and William received the news that their father has passed away. Linda’s grandmother tries to comfort Linda by saying that God has saved Linda’s parents from “evil days to come.” Instead of letting Linda see the body before the burial Mrs. Flint forces Linda to get flowers ready for a party. Mrs. Flint was horrible to the slaves in many other ways for example, instead of letting the slaves in the family’s leftover food Mrs. Flint would spit in it so the slaves could not eat it. This would not have been as bad if Mrs. Flint would have provided the slaves with enough food to keep themselves healthy, because of this Linda and William had to turn to their grandmother for food and clothing. Dr. Flint was not any better Linda claims to see Flint tie up and whip one of the slaves because the slave claimed that Dr. Flint was the father of the slave wife’s baby. The Flints went to church every Sunday but their actions would not show it. The family is a great example of how ironic the actions of slave owners that claim to be Christian can be.
Linda and William’s grandmother was bought by a kind lady and was set free and gave God all of the glory for being able to survive slavery and tells the siblings to “pray for contentment” but Linda cannot use religion as a reason to endure slavery, instead Linda uses religion as a reason to try and escape slavery because Linda believed that it could not have been “the will of God” for William and herself to live in slavery.
When Linda begins to go through puberty Dr. Flint begins to make advances and whispers inappropriate things to Linda in an effort to make Linda submit to Flint, but the “pure principles” that Linda has been taught give Linda the strength to stand up against Flint. Mrs. Flint is aware of Dr. Flints actions towards the slaves but instead of being angry towards Dr. Flint, Mrs. Flint blames the slaves for her husband’s actions and tries to keep a watchful eye on her spouse. Dr. Flint was so determined to get with Linda that Flint begins to write Linda letters with the same foul language that has been whispered to Linda in the past. In an effort to get closer to Linda, Dr. Flint moves their youngest daughter’s crib into a room close to the couples and forces Linda to sleep in the room as well. When Mrs. Flint discovers this, she is furious and requires that Linda swore on a bible to tell the truth about all of the wrongs that Dr. Flint has committed towards the slaves and Mrs. Flint, such as Mr. Flint having 11 illegitimate children with slaves. Linda tells the truth and can tell that Mrs. Flint is angry and frustrated because of this Mrs. Flint forces the sleeping arrangements to be switched so that Linda sleeps in the same room as Mrs. Flint. All of this shows how slavery can cause distrust between husband and wife and how slavery wasn’t beneficial for southern home life. This is also another example of the irony of Christianity in a slave owner’s home “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Throughout the whole book one of the main points that Linda conveys is that slaves have the same wants and desires as whites although they are not allowed to have them. An example of this is when Linda falls in love with a free-born carpenter who feels the same way towards Linda. Dr. Flint will not sell her and Mrs. Flint does not care if Linda is sold or not, but believes that slaves do not have the same right to happiness as free people do. Linda talks to a friend of her grandmothers to convinced Dr. Flint to sell Linda to the carpenter but Dr. Flint refuses. Because of this the only secure relationship in Linda’s life is the one with William, but even then there is always the fear that one of the siblings will be sold and they will never get to see each other again. Every person deserves to have one solid relationship where there is no worry about one of the people leaving, but slaves had no guarantee at a relationship like that because their family could be sold off in the blink of an eye.
Southern slave-holders would oftentimes use manipulation to keep slaves from running away. Slave owners would tell stories about runaway slaves in the north being starved to death and wanting to return to slavery because the conditions for slaves were so bad. Because slaves are uneducated and are not allowed to have their own thoughts, it is very easy for masters to trick their slaves into not wanting to run away. Southerners talk bad about Northerners in order to keep slaves from running away which demonstrates another way that southerners were not following Christian values such as “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Dr. Flint still has not given up on getting Linda to submit herself to all of his desires. In order to avoid a scandal Dr. Flint informs Linda that there will be a cabin built outside of town where Linda will reside. When Linda sees the cabin actually being built, Linda starts talking to a single white man named Mr. Sands. Linda hopes that if things start to become physical with Mr. Sands it will anger Dr. Flint to the point of giving Linda up. Linda knows that if all of this works out the it was planned, Linda’s grandmother will be disappointed because Linda did not save herself for marriage. Linda also knows that this might be the one chance to get away from Dr. Flint for good. When Flint informs Linda that the cabin is done there is also some shocking news waiting for Dr. Flint, Linda informs the doctor that Mr. Sands is the father of their unborn child. Linda then goes to grandmother’s house to share the news, but Mrs. Flint bursts in and starts screaming at Linda and claims that Linda is pregnant with Mr. Flint’s child. Linda’s grandmother, so full of anger and disappointment, throws Linda out of the house. Linda walks for a few miles to a family friend’s house before grandmother comes to retrieve Linda. When this happens, Linda tells of all the abuse that has been endured that lead to the decisions that were made. Because of this grandmother forgives Linda and is understanding of the situation. Many slaves had to give up their religious and moral beliefs in order to please their masters, and to survive.
Soon after this Nat Turner’s rebellion occurs, this is a very monumental step in the direction of ending slavery and scaring slave owners because this was the very first slave rebellion and southerners did not want something like this happening again. After the rebellion masters want their slaves to attend church services “to keep them from murdering their masters.” All of the services are led by white men that will tell slaves to obey their masters and teach that slavery is the will of God. Linda begins to realize that many southerners use religion as a way to have a good reputation, but are not truly Christain and only want slaves to go to church services if what is being taught benefits the masters.
After Linda gives birth to Benjamin, Mr. Sands son, shortly after Linda falls pregnant with Sands again. This time Linda is expecting a girl who Linda ends up naming Ellen. Linda knows that when the children become older Mr. Flint will treat Linda’s children the same way that Linda was treated. The only solution is Linda, Benjamin, and Ellen fleeing to the North. Linda knows that this will be a tough task that will require a lot of planning. Linda knows that it will be impossible to flee to the North with two kids in tow, so Linda decides that the best plan is to hide in the crawlspace of grandmother’s house. Because of this Mr. Flint believes that Linda has escaped to the North and decides to sell Benjamin, Ellen, and William to a slave trader who works for Mr. Sands. Linda is overjoyed because Ellen and Benjamin will finally be free, Mr. Sands agrees to send Ellen to a relative that lives in New York. William escaped from Mr. Sands and went up North. Linda manages to get to New York where Ellen lives and stays with the Bruce family. This family is very kind to Linda and treat her with respect. After Mrs. Bruce dies Linda receives a letter from Emily Flint (now Mrs. Dodge) stating that if Linda returns to the south it will be a comfortable home where Linda might be able to eventually purchase freedom, Linda doesn’t reply. William decides to take Benjamin to work in California and Ellen is doing outstanding at school. Linda goes back to work for Mr. Bruce and take care of the new baby with Bruce’s new wife, who love and care for Linda. Around this time the Fugitive Slave Acts are passed and Mr. Flint knows where Linda is. Because of the Bruce’s adoration for Linda, Mr. Bruce sends Linda to hide in the countryside for a month before returning to New York.
Linda soon receives the news that Mr. Flint has died, but Mrs. Flint wants Mrs. Dodge to retrieve her slave. Mrs. Bruce and Ellen both encourage Linda to leave the city when the Bruces arrive. Once Ellen and Linda leave Mrs. Bruce negotiates with Mr. Dodge about selling Linda and taking away the claims on Linda’s children. When Linda’s freedom is bought Mrs. Bruce excitedly tells Linda right away to return home. Linda is welcomed with tears of joy, and finally, a free woman.
This book addresses the issue of the very little rights of women in the south, and the horrible things that slaves had to go through every day. Women knew that their husbands were unfaithful with the slaves on the plantations, but divorce was not an option and was a very taboo subject at the time. Southern white women just had to turn the other way and pretend to be oblivious to their husband’s actions. As for slave women their masters would abuse and rape them, and many times this caused the women to fall pregnant. Often times masters would have children with multiple slave women and everyone would know about what was happening because that was the only way to keep the masters wife, the slave women, and the illegitimate children safe.
The reason that Dr. Hancock chose this book is that it goes deeper into the topic of slavery which is something that was discussed in class. The book was also written when events such as Nat Turner’s Rebellion and the Fugitive Slave Acts occur, these were both topics that were discussed in class. This book shows what was going on in people’s lives during the time of these events and allows the students to learn more about these events.
The book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gives a first person point of view as to what slavery was really like. This book gives light to the sexual and physical abuse inflicted on slaves daily by masters that claimed to be Christian. Harriet Jacobs does not spare any details, although some of the topics were taboo at the time, the book was beautifully and should be read by everyone to realize just how much the world and society has improved since then.
Harriet Jacobs’ main reason for writing this book was to shed light on the terrible things happening to her personally and to fellow slaves. The book also showed the irony of Christians in the south, if these people claimed to be Christian then how could white people believe that owning slaves and treating them as if they weren’t human was ok?
Depiction Of The Attitude To Women Slaves In Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl By Harriet Jacobs
From the time of Ancient Egypt to the present day, millions of slaves have lived and died nameless for history. Their life did not belong to them, their bodies did not belong to them, and even more so they did not own their names, they were renamed as easily as their masters wanted. The brighter the history of those who remained in the memory of humanity is something more than the subject of buying and selling a “two-legged cattle”, powerless property. The first works that laid the foundation of African-American literature were the narrations of slaves. These are autobiographical narratives told to white copyist editors or written by the fugitive or liberated slaves themselves. Most often, the authors of such stories became men, but there are a small number of works of this genre written by women. They include Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, researched in this analysis using the comparative-stylistic method, the motivational and biographical methods.
Harriet Ann Jacobs was a black slave born in captivity from the outset of the 19th century. She was born in a family of the mulatto roofer and slave from the tavern, and they belonged to different owners. Harriet’s mother passed when Harriet was six, and the mother’s mistress took the baby to her upbringing. This was a colossal success for the future writer, because she learned to read with her mistress – in the narratives of slaves, the authors recall how could they learn to write and read, they certainly remember the first books or the letter they read; the most important books for them, symbolizing the letter itself, reflect on the role of literacy, letters, books in their lives. The mistress died when Harriet was twelve. Under the will, Harriet should have passed into the possession of the mother of the mistress, but things changes so that Harriet found herself a slave to James Norcom. He harassed Harriet from the moment she got it into his property. He also denied her requests to marry anyone. In 1861, Harriet Jacobs published a book under a different name in which she frankly spoke about the rape of black slaves. She bitterly recalled how the masters talked about the Christian faith and virtues, but quietly violated the commandments when it came to slaves – the same Christians, and they confessed the faith at the insistence of the masters. Like the pagans of ancient Rome, many owners enjoyed bloody spectacles. And every slave owner, without exception, raped his slaves, considering his own children from the same slaves, considering them as not their own flesh and blood. The book came out incredibly scandalous – not because of the general information that was probably known to many, but because of its frank presentation.
In addition to black women, Irish and Gypsy women were constantly raped during the colonization of America. They were frankly used to get more black slaves, putting them under men from a very young age. The mulatto daughters of these European slaves were used in the same way and from the same years. By the nineteenth century, this practice had already disappeared, but its victims were thousands of girls and women – because of the greed of the slave traders and slave owners. Like any other type of narrative biography, the narrations of slaves were built according to certain rules. For example, in the genre of slave narratives, the authors of which were men, literacy becomes the main tool in the fight against the system. Harriet Jacobs departs from this rule and gives birth to another tradition, which found its embodiment in the works of the next generations of female writers – African-American women.
The main idea that runs through the entire work of the author, is the idea of the incommensurability of the pain of many men and women survived in slavery. In her opinion, a woman is being a slave not because of subjected to all the trials that befell on men (overwork, hunger, flogging, and so on) but also becomes a victim of even more severe tortures, reserved by slave owners especially for her. According to Harriet, for women, slavery was much worse than for men, because they had much stronger suffering and humiliation, especially their own. By this torture, she means forced sexual slavery, which slaves were forced to endure. Even if their whole nature resisted this, in one way or another the hosts forced them to come to terms with another part of being in the South. Female authors try to reconsider these oppositions and prove (by the example of their heroines) that most of slaves did not embrace their fate imposed by slave owners, but retained their identity (both personal and ethnic). Slaveholders erased all possible sources of identification, even those that were given by nature, for example, gender and age. This practice began in childhood when slave children of both sexes walked almost naked due to lack of clothes, then adult men and women (not related by kinship) often slept in the same room. When evaluating a property, women were subjected to the same degrading examination as men. Most of men writers were silent about this side of slavery. They were forced to adhere to a defensive position so that with a careless word they would not cast a shadow over their entire race and preferred to avoid topics that could cause a negative attitude towards the African-American race. Harriet Jacobs could not follow their example if she was going to truthfully describe her story, because the whole life of a woman slave fell under what was considered a taboo in white society. It is not surprising that, in describing the shameful practice of sexual violence, she does not name the specific names of women known to her, but simply uses the pronoun “she” in a general sense. By Warner, Jacobs changed the names of cities and called all her familiars as fictitious names, because she believed that she acted humanly towards other people, besides that preserving their anonymity serves not only as a protection for runaway slaves and those who helped them, but also a proposal symbolic names in order to strengthen the role of certain figures.
Harriet Jacobs, as she was afraid of publicity, did not have the brass to publish her book under the real name, so she took the pseudonym Linda Brent, by whom her heroine became known. In her heroine, the writer shows another way to deal with the system. The very beginning of her narration differs from the models accepted then: after the first sentence, starting with “I was born” followed a little story about parents, with the reference to the white father. She even did not change the first phrase, but then she speaks of the happiest time of her life – her childhood as she was six years old, when she when she still could not understand her social status, because lived in her family, surrounded by the love and care of black parents. The story bears its own emotional load, especially when it comes to a forbidden sexual relations with a man of white race and the torment caused by her shame. The narrative gives the life through the eyes of a slave, its existence and the world, with details concerning personal life and perception, time and place, and the sequence of events. Harriet was a beautiful woman, which she often regretted, the Lord gave her beauty, but that turned out for her to be the greatest curse. The constant resistance that Harriet had to Dr. Flint did not mean that she did not pay attention to other men. How could a poor slave fight with her master and take over him? She decided to choose her own lover (a white unmarried man who showed interest in her), in this she felt something similar to freedom. She fell in love with her old friend, a free carpenter, who proposed to her and intended to buy her back. Harriet knew that Flint would not agree to sell her, and she would only marry a slave. Nevertheless, Harriet with trepidation asked Dr. Flint for permission to marry. According to Jacobs, Dr. Flint sprang upon her like a tiger and hit her very hard, her fear even did not enable her to control the anger because it was the very first time he had struck her, and when she had recovered, she exclaimed that she despises him. For almost a week after that, Dr. Flint looked at her very viciously and was silent. Soon, when he saw her talking to her lover on the street, he cursed her and beat her. Almost immediately Harriet repented, she was burned with shame, because, punishing the owner, she punished herself; because of her act, she lost what her relatives valued her for, humiliated herself, being the same as many other slaves. In desperation, Harriet asked her lover to move to a free state, saying that she would soon come to him with her brother. However, the flight was impossible. Harriet was under constant surveillance, she had no money. In the end, Harriet abandoned the dream and chose a different path for herself. The narrative is vibrantly emotional, it is rich with metaphors and comparisons: “tendrils of the heart,” “pious soul,” “ruthless hand.” The descriptions are rather detailed, the sentences have an easy-to-understand construction used to convey emotions and feelings, images and phenomena. Author’s use of the language shapes the mood of the narrative, she hoped that “the dark clouds around me would turn out a bright lining”. She is very expressive, she constantly asks questions (including rhetorical), exclaims and helps to feel the atmosphere, to visit those places about which she tells. Of course, there is a place to be a certain “imposition” of author’s experiences, however, it creates mood, conveys sensations. Some slaves committed suicide but someone found their shelter in faith.
Christianity turned out to be the religion of slaves in the South; religion provided the slaves not only ways to escape the trials of everyday life, but also the opportunity to establish themselves as individuals. That is why, for the Africans who found themselves in the New World, and their descendants, the first, for a long time, the Bible was the only and all-time book. Harriet Jacobs recalls how willingly, diligently and successfully, secretly from whites, under the real threat of cruel carts both for the teacher and for the student, Fifty-three-year-old Uncle Fred, who really wanted to learn to read the Bible, was learning to read, live by the word of God and be closer to God. Jacobs herself assesses literacy, the ability to read as “the Fountain of Life from souls that are thirsting for it”. In the Bible, they, the newly converted Christians, sought the highest truth, God’s revelation, Faith. The Christian religion and the Bible have had a profound effect on their worldview, moral values, life behavior, language, and artistic creation. Jacobs debunks the hypocritical religiosity of slave owners and contrasts it with the sincere, deep, humane faith of the slaves. The contrast that runs through the entire Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the true Christian virtues of her grandmothers, and the basics of life Dr, Flint lived with – hypocrisy, pharisaism, greed, and cruelty. Jacobs devotes a separate chapter XIII to the problem “Church and Christianity”, with spiritualism becoming a leitmotif, which satirically depicts Satan: “Old Satan is one busy ole man; He rolls dem blocks all in my way; But Jesus is my bosom friend; He rolls dem blocks away.”.
Jacobs used the spiritual as a satirical setting for the episode, which she often recalls as the undeniable proof of the unrighteousness of slave owners. During the prayer meeting in the Methodist Church, which was led by a person who bought and sold slaves, who had fallen into the spiritual with brothers and sisters – the parishioners of his church, he instructed God to pray to an unhappy mother slave, who had her last child sold the day before. The voice of this miserable and the cry of the mother, the contrast of her true faith and deepest sorrow are his pompous and hypocritical teachings. The whole chapter is a convincing and emotional proof of a paradox: not illiterate slaves, but slave owners – pagans who do not know the moral commandments of Christ. It is known that the basis of self-identification is laid in childhood due to the child’s communication with parents and other family members. Relationships in the family play an important role in the development of a person; they help not only to self-determine but also simply to survive.
Female authors describe the lives and relationships of their parents since most of them have dark-skinned fathers (only M. Prince is the daughter of white), they know the family history (parents tell their children about the family members sold, preserving them, which means bonding relatives). On the pages of the narratives of female authors, various relatives are constantly mentioned who in word and deed try to teach the heroines how to live (first of all, it concerns the moral and religious aspect), to assist them. In case if the slave’s mother died at an early age or they were early separated from each other, the image of the mother may appear to the daughter in visions and guide her, or some kind woman can replace the mother. It was Harriet’s grandmother who taught her how to act, she talked with her about the need for moral and spiritual purity, respect for the laws of morality. With respect to relatives, the grandmother showed her granddaughter what family is and how to treat relatives. She worked tirelessly to redeem her child, the children in return took care of her and paid with the same love. Jacobs attempts to deconstruct the central opposition “white – black” and shows the discrepancy between the skin color and the inner essence expressed by this color, a simple juxtaposition of the adjectives “white” and “black” to describe one person: “This white-faced, black-hearted brother came near us”. That is, she wants to show that the color of the skin does not determine the essence of a person, and that means such opposition is wrong. Also, in the stories of slaves written by female authors, we see heroines representing the community (that is, people who have managed to preserve ethnic identity). Even in slavery, they form their own identity under the influence of their family and the cultural heritage of the whole community; fighting to preserve self-esteem through faith, they decide to flee, first of all, for the sake of their children. As the result, Linda Brent in her work makes the family, kinship, and motherhood the main tools in the fight against slavery, the source from which a woman draws the strength to endure everything and fight to the end. She needed freedom only to be able to be a mother and lead a life worthy of respect. All the torment she went through, paid off a hundredfold when she saw her children from her shelter, which Dr. Flint had left with her grandmother because did not want to incur the expenses associated with them. Until her owner could reach her, he did not touch her children either, that is, they were safe, surrounded by the love and care of her loved ones.
Maternal love, supported by a strong character, becomes the main weapon of the girl in the fight against the owner. It was thoughts about children and care about them that pushed her to the decision to fight for freedom, because if she remained a slave, then she would have no rights to the children, and the owner could do whatever they wanted with them. Slavery deprived her of the simple joys of motherhood and the opportunity to lead a decent life, slavery was associated with the hardest trials, but it could not deprive her of the last and main consolation, comfort in her family. Other sources of struggle with the identity of a slave are religion and community among female authors. Most often, mothers teach their children to turn to God, because he is their comforter in grief and savior in a difficult situation: they have no other help. For them, God is not a formidable punishing judge, but a merciful savior.