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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet A. Jacobs, Writing as Linda Brent - Essay Example

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet A. Jacobs, Writing as Linda Brent

When that mistress, Margaret Horniblow died, everything changed for the worse for Harriet, who was willed to Dr. Norcom, the Dr. Flint in 'Incidents'.
While he did not actually whip her, he sexually harassed the girl, an issue she seeks to expose in order to enlist the understanding and action of Northern white women; that a slave woman has no freedom either as a person or a woman. Flint makes this clear, often.
It is difficult to select only three critical incidents in her life, but one has to be the suffering endured at the hands of both Dr. Flint and his jealous wife. The effect of this caused her to abandon her moral stance regarding purity, and almost lost her the allegiance of her grandmother. By the taking of a white lover, Lawyer Sands, (Samuel Treadwell Sawyer) and bearing him two children, she may be considered to be enslaving herself further. She explains that such action was a means of self protection, for Flint still tormented her, wishing to set her up as his mistress in a cottage somewhere, and she could not succumb to this form of enslavement. Instead, she chose to
use her sexuality as a means of escape. The children do however, belong to Flint, but with the hope of them being set free, she removes herself, going into hiding for seven years in her grandmother's attic. This is another important, central issue to the story, for she shows her audience that she cannot be the mother to them she desires to be, but will sacrifice this for their freedom. The happy outcome of these actions means that Sands is able to buy the children from Flint, with the help of some subterfuge.
"The darkest cloud that hung over my life had rolled away. Whatever slavery might do to
me, it could not shackle my children, If I fell a sacrifice, my little ones were saved."
(Chap. 19, p. 166)
In Chapter 29, when she is ready to escape, after delays and prevarication, there is a bitter-sweet quality in her discussion with her son, who says,
"Mother, I'm glad you're going away. I wish I could go with you...I have been so afraid
they would come and catch you" (Chap. 29 p. 234)
The escape, and what comes after it, signify a third important incident for Harriet/Linda, bringing about, as it does, a faith in the kindness of others (the Bruce family) but a bitter understanding that the Fugitive Law 1851 (Chap. 40) still robs her and her people of freedom.
Regarding the standards of womanhood in 19th century America, Jacobs is aware of these and how she is deprived of the freedom to adhere to them. The ideal image of womanhood was that of motherhood, traditional homemaker, one who creates a place of love and security for her family, and who possesses the virtues of purity, piety and submission. At the same time, while nurturing the family, she must use her moral values, judged higher than the male of the species, to teach and develop her children. Jacobs is driven by this maternal instinct, the desire to secure freedom for her children, and to nurture them in a secure family unit, spiritually and physically. These elements are what she portrays to show evidence of 'respectability' in that society. On the other hand, the contradiction lies ...Show more
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Summary

In this book, Harriet Jacobs not only presents her autobiography as a series of 'incidents', her own personal experiences, but throughout her narrative, seeks to inform the reader of important social, legislative and historical issues which impacted upon those held in slavery in 19th century America…
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