Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs is a book that entails her narration of the experiences she had as a slave. The original copy of the book was published in 1861, and has had several reprints since its first publication. At the time of its publication, the book was intended to enlighten the African-American community so as to promote freedom fighting.
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The book was also meant to arouse sympathy from the whites so as to gain their support in the anti-slavery movements. By composing this narrative, Jacobs knew that there would be white abolitionists willing to help her rescue the other African-Americans who were still in bondage. Even though Harriet’s narrative presents a commendable insight of the economics of slavery, it is evident that it is gender biased, as it is written from a woman’s perspective.
Having been written in the beginning of the Civil War, the book did not reach out to as many readers as expected. This was because most people were not sure who the author was, as the author used pseudonym. For identity protection reasons, Harriet Jacobs referred to herself as Linda Brent. In addition, the book was considered an imaginary tale until in 1970 when Jean Fagan proved that the story was true, and that the author was Harriet Ann Jacobs.
Linda is brought up by a well-off slave couple, and unlike other slave children, she enjoys her childhood. She is fortunate to have been adopted by a nice family after her mother dies, as it is with the second family that she learns to read and write.
Linda is confused of her status as a slave as she grows up as her masters tend to treat her well compared to other families. However, this is until her mother’s mistress dies, and she is inherited by Dr. Flint who becomes her new master. Life changes for her as she begins to feel the pain inflicted on slaves (Jacobs 227).
Under Dr. Flint’s care, Linda experiences the worst incidents in her life; she is dehumanized to a point that she loses her moral control. She is forced to enter into a sexual relationship with Mr. Sands, who is married just to protect herself from his master. Dr. Flint who occasionally makes sexual passes at Linda is at the verge of raping her, forcing Linda to take drastic measure to save her. She is forced to keep the affair going so as to put off Dr. Flint, and as a result, she gives birth to two children, Benjamin and Ellen.
Her reasons for going after a married man are arguably justifiable as she is left with no options. Mrs. Flint, Linda’s mistress is mean to Linda as she suspects that her husband may have a sexual relationship with their slave. This puts Linda into more troubles as she has to constantly bear with the pressure inflicted on her by her mistress. Thinking that Dr. Flint will furiously sell her to Mr. Sands when he discovers the affair, she is instead sent to the plantation where she can be physically tortured.
Linda and the other slaves are powerless and have to obey their masters in order to get their way. Otherwise, one is not only physically tortured; he/she is forced to witness their loved ones getting tortured, which is blamed on their disobedient. This is seen when Dr. Flint decides to move Linda and her children to the plantation.
It is for this reason that Linda plots a plan to escape with her two children to the North. She is never at peace even after escaping as she is always haunted by Dr. Flint, and his men. This is because the slavery system had placed a lot of powers and privileges to the white community. Even though Jacobs also touches on the physical brutality during the enslavement, she focuses more on the psychological abuses of slavery.
Slave holders are seen inflicting the worst pain on slaves by physically torturing them for no reasons (Jacobs 46). Slaves are not seen as humans; they are viewed as objects that can be sold and purchased at any time. By denying the slaves the freedom to get a basic education, they denied them the opportunity to understand how the rest of the world work, making it easier to control them.
Linda is lucky to have been taught by her mother’s mistress how to read or write; otherwise, writing this book would have been impossible (Jacobs 6). Having been born into slavery, most of the slaves have accepted their fate, as working for their master and bearing with the brutality inflicted on them is all they know. Through the influences of the slave system, slaves are forced into immoral acts such as theft and adultery in order to survive.
Through this book, it is evident that women suffered harsher struggles than men, given the experiences Linda went through. Aunt Martha is seen as a leader figure as she constantly stands up for herself when Dr. Flint tries to abuse her; she has dignity and she’s even feared by Dr. Flint. Sexual abuse, physical torture, denial of the freedom to control their lives is among the hardships that slaves underwent.
By studying the history of slavery using a primary source, the learner gets an insight of what really happened, as it is a narration of a personal experience. The passing of the Fugitive Slave Act is among the achievements that were made, by the time Jacobs wrote this book.
Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Boston: Thayer & Eldridge, 1861. Print.