Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Alan Flynn Reading Response 1 1/28/10 “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” is an autobiography written by Harriet Jacobs and narrated through her alter ego Linda Brent. Brent was a female born into slavery in a small southern town during the 1820’s. This was a time in the United States in which many white southerners bought into and exploited the lucrative business of slave trading and slave labor. Throughout her text Brent explains not only the hardships of growing up as a slave but specifically the awfulness of living as a female slave in America during the mid 1800’s.

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She wrote this story to inform female white northerners of the terrible situations female slaves were forced to endure in hopes to gain their support in the abolishment of slavery. Throughout her story Brent describes the physical and more importantly the emotional and psychological abuse that a female slave endures during a lifetime of slavery. Female slaves experienced harsher realities than male slaves because females had additional torture forced upon them that the males did not.

These experiences include being sexually harassed and assaulted by their male owners, and forced to bear children only to see them sold away or watch them live a life of misery. It was not uncommon for slave owners to use their females as sex slaves and force them to carry their children. After the child was born it was almost certain that the slave owner would sell their own child as a slave. This enabled the slave owner to make money as well as dispose of the child they did not want or love. When Brent suspects that her master Dr. Flint plans on using her for this very reason she lets herself become pregnant with another man’s child.

The man she chooses to father her child is a young white lawyer named Mr. Sands who has shown a recent interest in her. She chose to do this not only to avoid becoming pregnant with Dr. Flints child but with the hopes that the successful white lawyer will buy the child and save it from a life of slavery. It is at this point in the book when Brent discovers the worst part of being a female slave which is being a slave mother. Her plan of getting impregnated by Mr. Sands is somewhat successful in the since that she has avoided carrying Dr. Flint’s children, however Dr.

Flint is infuriated by the situation and refuses to sell the children. By becoming pregnant without the sanctity of marriage Brent has disgraced her grandmother whom was very close to her and is now forced to watch her daughter Ellen grow up as a slave. These are two emotionally devastating events for the young slave mother. Brent expresses the horrible emotional distress caused by raising a slave daughter by contemplating whether it is better for Ellen to live or die. “The great house was raised two feet above the ground. I looked under it, and saw her [Ellen] about midway, fast asleep.

I crept under and drew her out. As I held her in my arms, I thought how well it would be for her if she never waked up” I believe that Brent uses her thoughts about her child’s death to speak to white northern mothers on a deep emotional level. The northern mothers can directly relate to Brent when it comes to the unconditional love a mother feels for her young daughter, and for Brent to wish death upon Ellen strongly illustrates the hardship of female slavery. As time passes Brent becomes pregnant with another one of Mr. Sand’s children and gives birth to her second child Benjamin.

Dr. Flint is again outraged by the situation at hand and swears to Linda that she and her children will be his family’s property for all of their lives. At this point Linda decides that if she and her children are ever to be free she must escape from Dr. Flint. Escaping to the north proved to be a difficult task even for a male slave with no children so for Linda to do this shows how determined she is to make her kids free. In order to ensure the successful escape of her and her children Linda first escapes the Flint’s property without her children.

However she refuses to leave for the north before she can insure her children’s safety, so she hides out in trustworthy neighbor’s homes for the time being. During this time Dr. Flint imprisons her children in an attempt to persuade her to come home. This describes yet another way women suffered during slavery; the love for their children which is supposed to be one of the greatest pleasures of their life is their biggest weakness. “I could have made my escape alone; but it was more for my helpless children that for myself that I longed for freedom. (73) This quote explains how the presence of her children make her attempt to escape more complicated but her love for them gives her the will power to succeed. Eventually the kids are bought by Mr. Sands and given their freedom. This overwhelms Linda with joy her plan to free her children has succeeded. However even though her children have been freed Dr. Flint is determined to catch Linda. Dr. Flint’s determination to catch Linda shows how females were treated differently by their owners than males in the since that Dr. Flint is motivated by revenge rather than money.

If a male had escaped his compound he would have been upset because he lost a good worker and wanted his investment back. However since Linda was a female whom Dr. Flint obviously had some attraction to he was angry and wanted revenge, which for Dr. Flint is much more motivating that money. Linda spends seven painstaking years in her grandmother’s tiny attic just feet from her children with no contact with them before she can leave for the north. During this time Linda explains the tremendous amount of grief she feels watching her children grow up and not being able hold or speak to them.

I believe that this experience alone demonstrates the extreme hardships a slave mother is willing to go through to ensure the safety of her and her family. This willingness also gives the reader an idea of how bad slavery must have been for women for her to put herself through such torture in the name of freedom. Eventually Linda escapes to the north however she meets many hardships when she arrives despite being in the “free states”. Dr. Flint’s daughter who is now Mrs. Dodge still peruses Linda despite the many years she has been missing.

Luckily Linda works for the Bruce family who eventually buys her freedom and she accomplishes her goal of becoming a free woman. Linda’s story does an excellent job of illustrating the hardships that a female endures as a slave. The context of the writing does not imply that she is trying to gain sympathy from the reader but to inform them of the situation. Still the story is told in such a way that you cannot help but feel sorrow for this woman. That is why this book holds such a powerful message, because it can change a person’s beliefs through truth and emotion rather than persuasion.


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