Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Instructions: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is one of the classic narratives of slave life written by former slaves. Harriet Jacobs, writing as Linda Brent, describes her twenty-seven years as a slave and her life as an escaped slave in the North. My purpose in assigning this book is to give you some sense of the life of a slave, the difficulties and problems encountered by slaves and how they responded to and dealt with them.
As you read Incidents, keep in mind the following questions and topics and then write a paper that discusses each question/topic in some detail.
Write a brief introduction in which you provide a brief overview of the book and what it is about.
How does Jacobs describe her family and social life. Who were the most important members of her family? Who were her closest friends and acquaintances among her fellow slaves?
How does Jacobs describe her relations with her white owners. In particular, discuss her problems with Mr. Flint. Why does she imply that slavery was harder for female slaves than for male slaves?
Discuss the most important ways that Jacobs attempts to deal with Mr. Flint and his demands. What strategies did she use? What actions did she take?
What role did Nat Turner’s rebellion and the Fugitive Slave Law play in Jacobs’ account of her life? How did she personally experience these events? Why did they disturb her?
After reading Incidents, what do you believe were the most troubling aspects of being a slave?
What was the most important thing you learned about slavery that you did not know previously? What did you think of the book? Would you recommend it? Why?
Do not use outside sources when writing this paper. The acceptable sources are the Jacobs book itself and your brain.
For the most part, the paper should be written in your own words. You may use some quotes from Jacobs when they are needed to support your main points, but don’t overdo it. If you do quote from Jacobs, be sure to enclose the quote in quotation marks and cite the page number.
Use the above questions/topics as your paper outline and answer them in the order they are presented.
Use some common sense in how much you write for each topic. The brief introduction, for example, can be covered in one paragraph. Other topics will require more extensive coverage. If there are subtopics, be sure that you cover each of them thoroughly.
Although I don’t grade in terms of the length of the paper, under most circumstances I would expect a paper somewhere within the range of 4-5 pages. As a general rule, it’s better to write more than less.
The paper must be typed using Microsoft Word, double-spaced using normal- sized fonts (11 or 12) and margins. Do not submit in Google Docs, Word Perfect, etc. and do not submit as a PDF.
The best grades will go to papers that have discussed each topic/question completely, are well-organized and well-written and follow directions. Points will be deducted for excessive grammatical and/or typographical errors so be sure that you proofread before turning it in. You might benefit from having a tutor at one of the HCC writing centers review your paper before submitting it.
Be careful about plagiarism. If you quote anything from this book, use quotation marks and cite the page number. Failure to do this could result in a grade of 0 for the assignment or, in serious cases, failure of the course.
Make and keep a copy of your paper.
You don’t need a separate title page, but on the first page of this paper you should put your name and the author and title of the book.
You should submit your papers by bringing them to class or sending them via Eagle Online email on the due date. Late papers will not be accepted. Failure to turn in this paper will result in failure of the course.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an autobiography about a young fugitive mother published in the year 1861 by Maria Child. The book entails the use of pseudonym character Linda Brent. It actively accounts the life of Jacobs as a slave girl and how she gained her freedom for her children as well as herself. The book generally talks about issues addressed in race and gender. Additionally the author explores sexual abuse and the struggles that female slave underwent on the plantations as they had to practice motherhood as well as protecting their children from the slave traders (Jacobs 61).
To begin with, Harriet Jacobs is born into slavery in the year 1813 at Edenton. She shares her experiences on her mission to become free. In her early years she recalls that her parents were a “property” of a generous lady who created a better living atmosphere for a slave family (Jacobs 17). Linda was happy during childhood as she had parents, maternal grandmother, Aunt Martha, and a brother, who the author presumes that they were well-off slaves. Some of her close acquaintances were Mr. Sands, the father of her children, Ellen and Benny, and Aunt Martha was also a close friend, respected by Dr. Flint and was always there for Linda. Harriet realized that she was a slave girl at the age of twelve years. At the age of five, her master died and the whites became so brutal to blacks in the plantations. She believed that it was not a good thing the way the whites treated the black through purchasing them as slaves. Eventually, she escapes for the search of her freedom.
Female slaves were exposed to a number of problems as compared to the male slaves during that time. Evidently, the author stipulates that her “master” wanted to see her each time and even swearing that he will compel Linda to submit to him. I would interpret this as a sexual abuse towards a 12-year-old girl from a grown man, Dr. Flint. These suggest that the girl black slave child of a female gender experienced more of just being a slave to sexual harassment by their masters. Also, the book reveals that the black slaves were prohibited from legal marriages because they were considered as a piece of property.
In order to deal with Mr. Flint’s demands, Jacobs used some strategies. One of the strategies was becoming pregnant by another man. Mr. Flint was sexually interested in Jacobs, thus, she thought that the best strategy she could use in order to put him off would be to have children with another man. As expected, Dr. Flint became angry. It however did not end his sexual interest towards Jacobs. Jacobs further sought to put off Mr. Flint by refusing his offer to be set up in a cottage in the plantation. She had been offered an opportunity to have her own house in the plantation as well as to be responsible for only a small portion of the tasks in the plantation. She however opted to be sent to Mr. Flint’s son plantation where she would be subjected to difficult tasks. She did this in order to avoid the sexual demands from Mr. Flint.
One of the major events in the book is the Nat Turner’s rebellion. The event affected the life of every slave in the nation. It made the slaveholders afraid of their slaves thus in order to reduce the risk of their rebellion, they allowed them to attend church services, where they were taught of the importance of respecting and obeying their masters. It also led to the enforcement of a new law known as the Fugitive Slave Law. This law was meant to minimize the number of slaves running away. It impacted the life of Jacobs as she had run away from her master. She was however employed by a woman who was motivated by the new law to help free slaves (Jacobs 194). She therefore did not let Jacobs or her children be captured by bounty hunters.
One of the aspects that I consider the most troubling aspects of being a slave is the fact that a slave was the property of his or her master and therefore only the master could decide his or her fate. The slaves’ opinion was considered irrelevant. They therefore did not decide what they wanted to do in their lives nut rather had to settle for what their masters chose for them. For example, the masters decide if they could sell you to another slaveholder or not. One therefore did not decide if he or she wanted to change his or her master. Jacobs’ master, for example, would not allow Jacobs to be bought by either her grandmother or by her lover. Her opinion of whether she wanted to remain a slave to Mr. Flint did not matter. The only opinion that mattered was that of her master.
From the content of the book, I learnt the children that one bore as a slave were also considered part of the property of the master that owned the mother. When they were older, they were supposed to start working in the master’s plantation just like their mother. I previously wondered if the slaves’ children were considered free people because the master did not buy them thus the book provided important information. The book is very informative about slavery. It shares the details about the different experiences that slaves underwent during the slave era. The information that it provides informs the readers the negative effects that slavery has on those that are enslaved and the dangers that it poses to slaveholders. I would therefore recommend everyone to read the book.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the life of a slave girl. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.