Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Harriet Jacobs writes one of the most provocative narratives ever written. Her remarkable story is very important in understanding the effects and consequences of the American slavery. The negative effects of slavery are shown from her experiences on the hands of an abusive master. The book also highlights the importance of freedom to human beings and this is illustrated when she agreed to a love affair with a white man for the sole reason of attaining freedom. The entire narrative is quite significant in emphasizing that freedom is essential to all human begins and though its definition may differ to different people the ability to make personal choices, right to protest and strive for a happy ending is constant is all aspects of freedom. During the times when slavery was quite common, all that the peasants wanted was freedom as illustrated by the experiences, trials and choices of Harriet Jacobs. Jacobs brings to light the fact that women struggled much more in the hand on slavery. Rather than the difficult manual work that was assigned to them, the women severely struggled with cases of rape, pressure to have sex at a very early age and besides separation from their children. They lacked the opportunity to enjoy human rights such as movements, relationship and speech. With the help of Jacobs written experiences, trails and choices, we understand the beginning of common problems that exist in today’s world such as corruption, misuse of power, domesticity, psychological abuse, confinement, violence and breaking of family ties.
Harriet Jacobs narrates her life experiences in the book using the name Linda Brent. She talks about the hard times she faced in slavery from when she was just a young girl to when she is an adult. She begins to narrate about her life with her mother and father who were well-off slaves. Though her life was not too difficult at the time, it changed after the death of her mother while she was just six years old. After the death of her mother she was forced to love with her mother’s mistress who taught her how to read and write. A few years later she too died and these resulted to her being sold out as a slave. Her new maters were harsh and cruel and the father Dr. Flint made it more difficult since he began having sexual interest in her. In the attempt to fight Dr. Flint sexual relationship, she agreed to an affair with Mr. Sands. With Mr. Sands she had two children Benjamin and Ellen. However, this did not stop Mr. Flint intentions and this forced Linda to hind in her grandmother Aunt Martha tiny house. This was actually the beginning of her troubles, because her children suffered harsh times under slavery and was forced to separate with them. Later in the story Linda manages to escape to the north where she would be free from Dr. Flint’s harassment. In the north she was still considered a slave of Mr. and Mrs. Hobbs. Throughout the story Linda did not at anytime enjoy freedom due to the unjust ways of the slave system. Slavery deprived her, a normal childhood, ability to make independent choices, opportunity to have a good family and above all freedom. Jacobs’s story as Linda is an illustration of the suffering that women faced in slavery which highly relates to the current problems in the society of corruption and abuse of human rights.
The story about Linda’s experiences in slavery is very important is analyzing the current system of government, those in power specifically the government. Jacob uses her experiences to illustrate how those in power and unjust system can ruin the life of others. By depriving people especially women the opportunity to be with their children or having to face the risk of sexual abuse, like what used to happen under the slave system it actually similar to denying them the right to life (126). There can be no good in the hands of a slave master. It is always good for the masters to respect the rights of those under them at all times. Slavery or in today’s world dictatorship corrupts even the best of those in authority. For instance, it is difficult for a slave master to remain morally upright and that is best expressed by the actions of Dr. Flint. Dr. Flint is depicted as an inhuman monster (59). He constantly wants to mistreat Linda who was just a young girl and he does not stop even after learning she was now a mother. The need to be unjust and evil gets even the best of the masters under a corrupt system. Mr. Sands for instance, is a kind person in the beginning but when greed and financial challenges face him, he does not hesitate to betray any of his slaves to the extent that he betrays his own children even after promising he would not sell them off as slaves.
The struggle against unjust authority is also depicted by domesticity. The book assist the reader to understand the value of home and family to the women and more so those of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the story Linda states that she is yet to fulfill her dream of having home and taking care of her children. This means that to the women just like in today’s society domesticity is considered variable and deriving a woman the privilege is cruelty. The value of domesticity is also shown through Aunt Martha who is an independent strong woman. The tidiness of her home and the love it provides to Linda straight from the time her mother died is evidence that women valued homes and family. Aunt Martha homes was a resting and comfortable place for Linda and a perfect hiding place but during the time she had to hind in the house for so long she became uncomfortable and felt convinced. This acts as clear evidence that even though most people treasure different aspects of our live just like the women treasured domesticity which involves having a home and caring for the children it has to be accompanied by freedom. It is not enough for the authority to assume that home and family are all the people need but they too should be balanced with freedom.
The plot of the story and the characterization of Jacobs’ book revel multiple things about the nature of American slavery but the most notable characterization is the high levels of psychological abuse and confinement and brought about by slavery. Most stories about slaves focus on the brutality and deprivation that revolve slavery and Linda too does not ignore this aspect but her main focus is on the mental and spiritual brutality that the slaves have to undergo. The slaves are deprived their freedom and mentally tortured when they are not around to have families to get married or even worse, they are forced to sleep with masters they despise. They are even further tortured when families are slipped apart when children are sold away to other places far from their children. According to Linda, a slave in the American slave system, she is better of a poor English woman than a pampered slave. Further to providing evidence of the psychological torture that slavery brought to the slave victims, the story also shows that slavery was a major form of confinement. Cases of confinement are multiple in the story with the most spectacular being Linda’s imprisonment for seven years in Aunt Martha’s attic. However, there are other instances that slavery led to confinement such as Linda’s confinement in an isolated wood cottage by Dr. Flint so that he can freely sleep with her, locking up of Linda’s children and brother in a small room by Dr. Flint after learning than she had ran away and besides the multiple times that Linda had been confined in the floorboards of the “white benefactress”.
Bottom line, the book “Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Ann Jacobs uses the character Linda to tell her story in slavery. The story provides chronological evidence to the abuses of slavery, the struggle that the slaves underwent to attain self-definition and self respect as well as the details of the troubling dangerous escape the slaves went through. However, the author places extra attention to the special problems that female slaves faced particularly, problems of sexual harassment and anguish of slave mothers after separation from their children. With the skilled novelistic style, Jacobs relates the abuse and suffering of slaves to the need and importance of human freedom.
Jacobs, H. A. (1861) Incidents in the Life of a Slave: Thayer & Eldridge