Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: An Account of Slavery in American History
Since the Americas were first colonized in 1607 there has been many defining events that shaped the future. From the war for independence all the way to problems with North Korea, every event has somehow affected the very foundation of the United States of America. Slavery is perhaps one of the biggest defining events in the history of the U.S.A. In Harriet Nacobs’ book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, she details the effect that slavery had on not only on black males, but also black females and white owners and their families.
To begin, slavery affected all aspects of American life. Its outreach was instituted in every area of life. Slavery had an effect on social, economic, and political aspects of the time. In Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the life of a slave girl, she describes in detail her life as a female slave. One of the biggest takeaways from her book was the outcome of slavery on that of African American females. While slavery is commonly related to the male slave, many people forget the numerous hardships that females were made to endure. When analyzed fully, slavery can be looked upon in a new light. Did slavery affect women more? Did it not have just as profound an outcome on their lives as men? Jacobs describes it perfectly as she quotes “She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the system that has brutalized her from childhood; but she has a mother’s instincts, and is capable of feeling a mother’s agonies.”(Jacobs). Motherhood, one of the most beautiful and sacred things in our society. The very same motherhood that so many African.
American slaves were robbed of. Countless times their own children ripped away from them. Female slaves were often forced into sexual relationships with white masters. Harriet describes the struggle of dealing with unwanted sexual advances by that of her master, Dr. Flint. Struggling against Dr. Flint’s cruel and neglectful overtures for years she finds herself consenting to a love affair with her neighbor, Mr. Sands. While ashamed of the illicit relationship, Jacobs finds comfort in the fact that she will not be raped by the loathsome Dr. Flint. Upon having two children with Mr. Sands, Benny and Ellen, Harriet’s life becomes solely dedicated to protecting her two children. She argues that a slave girl cannot be held to the same levels of morality as that of a free woman. The life of a female slave routinely involved lovers that were not chosen. “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”(Jacobs). Slave girls were not allowed to choose their own partners, more times than not they were forced into relationships they did not desire. African American females were appallingly mistreated and often treated as animals. While slave men has been the main focus of slavery studies, it is perhaps the latter, females that were most profoundly disturbed and affected by slavery in the United States of America.
To continue, the struggles of Harriet Jacobs revealed a lot about slave life in civil war era America. While not specifically aimed at the male slave group, Jacobs’ book does give some insight into the life of a male slave. While hiding in an attic for eight years she is unable to do anything but observe the daily lives of her children. It is during these years that Harriet gives many observations that allow the reader to further understand exactly what it meant to be a slave. “I admit that the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live;” (Jacobs). Black men were made inferior solely because of the color of their skin. When Harriet describes ignorance, she more specifically means the misunderstanding that existed, and still does exist, over the color of someone’s skin. Whites believed that they were superior based only on the pigmentation of their skin. This ignorance has oppressed and vilified African Americans for years. While describing her journeys under the pseudonym Linda Brent, Harriet details some horrendous ordeals that she withstood. A lot of things can be discovered by simply reading her book. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl raises many points that cannot be ignored. On the topic of male slaves, Harriet’s account takes an entirely different stance than that of previous works, specifically Frederick Douglas’ books. While her predecessors followed a male heroine, Jacob’s was a female.
As Linda Brent follows along her journey she shines light on the different roles of male and female slaves. One of the main discoveries was the interesting conflicting views. From the point of view of a black male, they were the most oppressed. Contrastingly, in Incidents in the life of a slave girl, Harriet details many situations that falsify that statement. While it is true that black males were horrendously treated as less than human, comparatively it is possible, through the use of Jacobs’ book, to argue that it was the female slaves that were treated the worst. Harriet equates them to being treated as animals. All this being said, the effect that slavery had on all people cannot be minimized. Finally, discussing slavery and its effects on the people involved can be a very tricky situation. Most times it is just those who are directly involved that make it into the discussion. Harriet Jacobs’ book takes a different approach. Through the use of her experiences she delves into area unexplored before. On the topic of the white slave owners and their wives she has a few things to say. “I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.” (Jacobs). Harriet relates slavery to a cycle. A cycle of hate that persists and lives on, passed down from father to father. Slavery was like a virus, spreading through and corrupting the young and impressionable. Slavery had a unique effect on the whites as it did not take a physical form. The way in which whites were affected by slavery was more subtle, as it attacked their character. “Yet few slaveholders seem to be aware of the widespread moral ruin occasioned by this wicked system. Their talk is of blighted cotton crops–not of the blight on their children’s souls.” (Jacobs). Harriet acknowledged the fact that whites did not seem to be able to grasp the consequences of the situation. They were so blinded by their hate that they failed to see what slavery was doing to their children.
In conclusion, every event and or ideal that the people of the United States of America has gone through have shaped the course of history. Slavery is one the biggest and most impactful events in the history of the world. Many people have discussed and written numerous books on the subject. Harriet Jacobs’ book, Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl, presents the various affects slavery had on all people: black, white, male, and female.
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