Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl - Essay Prowess

Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl


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Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Ann Jacobs was an African American born as a slave in 1813, in North Carolina. Having been a slave for a good part of her life, Harriet developed skills, determination and knowledge that she required to defend herself until she was later freed from slavery where she wrote an autobiography titled “Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl.” Harriet wrote the book under her pseudonym Linda Brent. The book explores the struggles of a slave, abuse and sexual harassment.


Linda’s most important friends and acquaintances were her family, her grandmother, her mother’s mistress and Benny and Ellen. Harriet was born into slavery and spent her early years of childhood with her mother, father and brother. The family was a well-off slave family and Linda admits to having felt loved and shielded by her parents at all costs. She quotes in her book, “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.” (Jacobs pg. 12). This is a clear indication that Linda came from a closely knit family. The unity was however short lived when Linda’s mother passed away when she was six years old. Linda was sent to live with her mother’s mistress, a great woman who cultivated a great relationship with Linda. She taught her how to read and write, and taught her how to sew. She loved her as if she were her own child. Linda admits this in her book when she says, “My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do her bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years would permit. I would sit by her side for hours, sewing diligently, with a heart as free from care, as that of any free born white child” (Jacobs pg. 14).

A few years later, Linda mistress also died, bequeathing her to a relative by the name Dr, Flint.  Dr, Flint was however mean and cruel and pressured Linda into a sexual relationship with her. Linda decided to outwit him by requesting to fall in love with a white neighbor, Mr. Sand. She hopes that once Flint finds out, she will disgustingly sell her to Mr. Sand. It is through this process that Linda gives birth to Benny and Ellen, both belonging to Mr.Sand. She is willing to go to the lengths of living in tiny garret watching them to ensure her children’s safety. Benny and Ellen are some of the most important people in Linda’s life.

Throughout all this, Linda’s grandmother assumes the roles of a mother and father figure by providing both economic and emotional support. Linda’s grandmother is a free woman who possesses the ability to provide support and refuge. She hides, feeds and clothes her during times of need. Linda’s grandmother grows to become her confidant. Linda trusts telling her about her dreams and hopes. Their relationship is however not only sweet, but also complex. Linda admits to this by saying that “Although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her as well as trusted her. I had been accustomed to look up to her with a respect bordering upon awe” (Jacobs 28-29). All in all, Linda and her grandmother had a great relationship that held utmost importance to Linda.


After her Linda’s mistress dies and bequeaths her to her new master Dr. Flint in her will, life takes a different turn for Linda. As a young girl of fifteen years, Linda has to deal with the cold treatment from her master. Dr. Flint forces Linda into sexual relationships but Linda defies. Linda works hard to defy avoid Flint’s advances by willingly giving herself to Mr. Sand, she admits that her actions are illicit and defy her moral laws and those taught to her by her grandmother,  but she prefers to being in an illicit relationship with Mr. Sand than endure rape from Dr. Flint. She hopes that once Flint finds out, he will sell her to Sand. However, upon realization, vengeful Flint summons Linda to her office and coerces her to leave Mr. Sand and to never talk to him again with a promise to take care of her and her son. Linda is however stubborn and unwilling to let go the father of his son. Linda quotes this in her story when she says, I “He asked the last time, would I accept his kindness? I answered I would not” (Jacobs pg. 92). The relationship between the two is filled with fear and tension.

Later on, Linda gets pregnant again, this time with her daughter and Flint is enraged. At one point she pushes her down the stairs and at another, she shaves her hair. Flint uses Linda’s children to punish her and sends Linda brother’s plantation. Linda leaves Benny and Ellen with their grandmother but she is willing to go through trouble to see her children. She hides in her grandmother’s attic for days watching them. Linda also implies that slavery was harder for women than men because their suffering and mortification was strangely and uniquely meant for women. She quotes in her book, “When they told me my new born baby was a baby girl, my heart was heavier that it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men, but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and suffering and mortifications peculiarly their own” (Jacobs pg. 119).


Linda is grounded. She is highly principled and is not willing to comprise on her morality even for her children. She prefers having her children sent to the plantation with her instead of giving in to Mr. Flint’s sexual demands. Linda is also willing to go against slavery rules by taking her children for baptism. Her strong personality keeps her and her children principled and alive. She quotes this in her story “My grandmother belonged to the church, and she desired her children to be christened. I knew Dr. Flint would forbid it and I did not venture to attempt it, But chance favored me” (Jacobs pg. 125). Linda used her strong personality and strong principles taught by her grandmother to resit demands of slavery. She was always standing up to Dr. Flint despite his cold treatment. She also managed to stand up against the low whites during the Nat rebellion and she managed to standup for her children by choosing to leave them with her grandmother as she was sent to the plantation.


The Nat Turner rebellion insurrection created an opportunity for low whites to spread fear and terror in households belonging to slaves.  It was a chance for the low whites to terrorize black men and women. The search however played a role in strengthening Linda’s belief of standing up against terror from the whites. Despite the harsh tones used by the low whites, Linda proved her confidence through her answers. This is seen through her conversations with the whites, for instance, when she is asked where she receives her love letter from, her response manifests her confidence “O, no, most of my letters are from white people. Some request me to burn when they are read, and some I destroy without reading” Jacob pg. 101). Her confidence is what makes the whites disturb her, they cannot believe that a slave is standing up for herself without fear.


“No pen can give adequate description of all-pervading corruption produced by slavery” (Jacobs 51).This quote from Harriet’s book ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ is confirmation of the extreme suffering slaves went through. In my perspective, the most troubling aspects of slavery were the inhumane actions masters took against their slaves. Slaves were treated like animals and were not believed to possess any rights. Sexual exploitation and abuse was a common phenomenon. Slaves were punished in the most absurd ways. Linda quotes some instances in the book “Various punishments were resorted to. A favorite one was to tie a rope around a man’s body and suspend him from the ground. A fire was kindled over him, from which was suspended a piece of fat pork, as this cooked, the drops of fat fell on the bare flesh” (Jacobs pg. 71). Such levels of cruelty are unfathomable.


In my perspective, Harriet Jacob’s story on the horrific trials of slavery is a remarkable way of furthering the abolitionist cause. I also think the book is a great read because it creates a platform for people to discuss the evils related to slavery even in our society today.

Work Cited

Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the life of a slave girl: Written by herself. Vol. 119. Harvard University Press, 2009.

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