In the slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the author, Harriet Jacobs, tells her journey through slavery and how she overcame it. This freedom was earned through many trials, but mostly by the of hand her master, Dr. Flint. To understand the importance of literacy between Dr.Flint and Linda, we must first understand their characterization. This will help develop reasons why and how they used literacy. This relationship, though initially based on lust, was able to persevere because of one thing that made Linda different from other slaves, her ability to read and write. Linda’s literacy facilitated Dr. Flint’s attempts to seduce her, and also made it easier to continue his obsession even after Linda ran away.
Dr. Flint and Linda have drastically different personalities. Dr. Flint uses forms of manipulation against Linda which characterizes him as obsessive or egoistic. Examples of these personality traits can be seen through Dr. Flint’s attitude towards trying to seduce Linda. Because he already has eleven children with past slaves, he thinks this gives him the entitlement to pursue Linda (Jacobs, 31). Dr. Flint is one of the most disliked characters in the book. I think Dr. Flint embodies a typical slave owner. Stereotypically, plantation owners are known for inflicting savage punishments upon the slaves. In this case, instead of physical abuse, he uses a type of mental abuse. We can see this when Dr. Flint promises to free Linda’s children if she agrees to live in a separate home with her children (Jacobs, 47). Though at first glance, living in a house with her children seems very generous, this is just a ploy Dr. Flint is using to try to get Linda alone (Jacobs, 47). If she refuses this ‘generous’ offer, he will send her and her children to work on the plantation (Jacobs, 48). Dr. Flint’s manipulative and obsessive personality is what builds Linda’s strong and determined personality. Linda was forced to withstand this abuse for years. Because of this, she was continuously getting stronger, which is what eventually resulted in her overcoming it. There are many accounts in the narrative that help build Linda’s character of determination. When Linda finally escapes the clutches of slavery, she is forced into hiding for years after. This confined, dark space would have taken victim of many others who would have tried to inhabit it, but Linda’s determination and love for her children made it possible for her to push on (Jacobs, 92).
Literacy was used for many things in the narrative, to gain knowledge, to help people but also to manipulate others for personal gain. There are many examples in the text that demonstrate these motivations of using literacy. Literacy played a major role in Linda’s life even before becoming Dr. Flint’s slave. Her first mistress taught her to read and write after Linda’s mother died at a young age (Jacobs, 5). This was a talent that was very sought after and made Linda stand out among other slaves who were considered to be unintelligent and worthless. Dr. Flint took notice of this talent, along with her lighter skin complexion and natural beauty. Using crafty ways to try to get Linda to submit to his desires. Because he knew of Linda’s literacy, he took advantage of this by writing her secret notes, knowing that none of the slaves around them would be able to read them (Jacobs, 26). These notes consisted of him telling him to meet him places, away from his wife and the other slaves (Jacobs, 26). Though this is one instance that literacy did not work in Linda’s favor, there were also times where she outwitted Dr. Flint and proved that she could still get use out of her talent. After Linda had run away from the Flint household, she stayed in hiding for years. Though she was in the same town as Dr. Flint all those years, right under his nose, she used literacy in order to trick him into thinking that she had left the state and headed to the north (Jacobs, 103). Though Linda initially learned to read and write in order to help others and help herself through furthering her education, Dr. Flint took advantage of this and tried to use it to his advantage. I think that this shows the character’s personalities further. Linda, a determined a strong woman, tried to use her talent to help her through her situations while in slavery. On the other hand, Dr. Flint tried to twist this extraordinary feat into something that could be useful to him, fueling his ego and obsession.
This use of literacy helped Linda grow throughout the story, but on the contrary, it hindered Dr. Flint from changing as he became a static character as the story progressed. Linda is always moving forward to her final goal of freedom. This motive made her character more dynamic by using her talent of literacy to move toward this goal. When Linda was still a slave with many worries of her own she took the risk of teaching an old mad how to read and write (Jacobs, 61). She took this risk in order to help others when she knew that she should be punished severely. When Linda escaped to the North, she was able to write letters to Aunt Martha in order to gain intel on Dr. Flint (Jacobs, 101). With this intel she was able to track him secretly and secure her own safety. These actions both generous and intelligent helped form her character and grow as a person. Dr. Flint on the other hand, proved to be a static character, exhibiting the same traits throughout the story. He constantly proved to be obsessive, never showing any other traits throughout the narrative. Though literacy perhaps did not start Dr. Flints obsession with Linda, it enabled it and progressed it. He continued this after Linda escaped his grasp, constantly pursuing her and trying to find her. Though it was years after she had left the south, instead of moving on with his life he stayed focused on trying to get Linda back even up until his death.
The narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gives many insights into what it was like being a female slave and the many hardships that come along with it. Jacobs tells her story through Linda, by doing this we are able to see a unique point of view and the real and raw life she lived. Its important to understand the effects of slavery and the tools used to gain freedom from slavery in order to respect and honor what people were forced to go through during that time.