Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs


The book was first published in 1851, in the book, Harriet Jacobs narrates her experience in North Carolina where she was a slave. The book was one of the published books that pushed for the abolition of slave trade. The book was received well, most people commended the story for containing a rare woman’s witness account of slavery. The story highlighted the sexual exploitation that took place during the time. It greatly appealed to the female readers who could easy relate to the experiences of Linda, Harriet Jacobs. The story received more authenticity in 1981, this was a time when the stories of the horrors of slavery begun to spread. Harriet’s story had been more vivid in its illustration of those horrors as she described the plight of slaves in the hands of inhumane slave owners. She describes how she was relentlessly pursued by her owner named Dr. Flint. In the book, Harriet’s is represented through the character of Linda Brent. She uses this character to tell a story of her personal experiences. She describes how she allowed another man to have two children with her in order to gain freedom. Before she could achieve her goal, she changes her mind and flees to a confining garret before moving to the north where she faced a new kind of racism (Jerns 4-10).

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In the story, Harriet also describes her relationship with her grandmother. She uses this and other family situations to describe how slavery had impacted families of the enslaved. She states that because of slavery, her relationship with her grandmother was greatly distorted. Her grandmother never advised her to fight for freedom, in fact she discouraged her. The grandmother was not only a guardian, to Linda she was an embodiment of her father and mother. She provided her with both economic and emotional support. The grandmother was not a slave, she could therefore provide a stream of support and refuge for Linda. Because of this, Linda felt indebted to her because she considered her support really important. The grandmother used her own income to clothe, feed, and hide Linda when the need raised. Since the death of Linda’s father, the grandmother became a confidant. She was one of the few people Linda could trust with her dreams and hopes for the future (Jerns 20-26).

Linda’s relationship with her grandmother is regarded to be quite complex. She states that her grandmother was all she had and that she was all in all in such a way that she loved her but feared her (Jacobs 28-29).She always looked up to her and was accustomed to respecting her that she almost wondered how to be fully truthful to her, especially concerning her sexual predators. Linda is forced to learn how to be sexually assertive in order to deal with enslavement and to do this she had to disregard the virtues that her grandmother had instilled in her. She managed to avoid most advances but when she is promised a cottage she faces a strong push to give in. She was forced to make all these decisions at a very tender age (Jacobs 53). She was having a tough time choosing her virtues from the persuasive sexual advances. She finally falls for Mr. Sands after which she felt a sense of sorrow with the realization that she had let down her grandmother (Jacobs 56).

Through her story and other descriptions of other families, Harriet describes how social institutions were impacted by slavery. She states how slave women had to seek permission from their slave masters before they got married, the owners would at times agree or turn down the plea. Sexual exploitation was also a common trait among slave owners. A further threat to family structures was the fact that family members could be separated through slavery (Jerns 32). Some could be sent to far places away from their family and forced to stay there and in some cases children of slave women could be sold and separated from their mothers. This was an intentional act by slave owners as this could weaken family structures hence weaken resistance. Some of these slave owners could rape the slave women and consider the born children as added wealth.


As mentioned above, Harriet’s book was one of the books that inspired the abolition of slavery. The description of the plight of slaves made the world’s population to hold some compassion and realize that slavery was inhumane and damnable. It is however a sad realization that a lot of people had to suffer for years before the world could change. Harriet will remain one of the few inspirational authors that contributed to this revolution.


Works Cited

Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. Lydia Maria Child. National Cash Register Company, 2002.

Jerns, Lea Lorena. “” Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs.” (2013).