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Slavery And Freedom In The Novel Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

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Harriet Jacobs is famous for her escape from slavery. Born in 1813 in Edenton, North Carolina, she persevered in the hands of her oppressors. Sexual abuse was part of her life as a child and growing up, but she successfully escaped. The experiences turned her into an impeccable author, creating the famous ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ in 1861. It is a notable element that was rare at the time, considering she was a woman and a black one at that. It was among the fewest narratives written. She advocated for the rights of the blacks in the United States, becoming an abolitionist speaker, a social worker, and an educator. She was the daughter of Elijah and Delilah Knox, and a mother to Joseph and Louisa Matilda Jacobs. Harriet had a happy childhood with cherished moments with close family, friends, ad her mother’s mistress who helped raise her when her mother died (Jacobs, 7). Most of her life is characterized by slavery, from her parents, her brother, to her grandmother. The aspect of religion came into her life through her mother’s mistress (Jacobs, 8). She learned the precepts of God’s word through her, and later on, after a long struggle and escape, Harriet died in Washington DC in 1897.

Harriet had a memorable childhood around family, love, and friends. She only found out after six years of a happy family. The father was a carpenter and a slave as well. Once, he was the head workman because of his skills and intelligence. He had a great impact on Harriet as a father, not only a symbol of love for the family but of hope that one day they would be free. The family of mulattoes relied on the father who also had to pay his mistress 200 hundred dollars. He worked hard with the intent of buying his family back from his mistress. The author never thought herself as merchandise, considering how she was shielded and loved by the family (Jacobs, 8). The maternal grandmother was precious in her life as well, who played a remarkable role in shaping her life. As older, as she grew, so was her intelligence. She would bake crackers for the children at night with permission from the mistress (Jacobs, 9). Her popularity grew throughout the neighborhood, with several people asking her to cook for them. They later established a business that would buy their freedom. Harriet’s uncle, Benjamin, was like their brother and was a slave like the entire family, sold at an early age. Harriet’s mistress was kind and often let her play as a normal child should; she would run and jump outside and gather berries. She also had a little friend Fanny, who died young and in the hands of slavery (Jacobs, 21). Her childhood in the hands of the mistress was nothing but good memories and happiness; she taught her how to read and write.

Dr. Flint was the new master after she was taken into a new household. Like most slaves, her brother was sold as well, to the same family. Her encounter and first impression of the new environment include cold words, treatment, and cold looks. He would weep and moan in bed alone. Slaves were irrelevant to Dr. Flint, especially when it comes to their diet. He was an embodiment of cruelty, sending shivers in the lives of the servants, making them suffer even for the smallest mistakes. If his will is not met, Dr. Flint will sell his servants to a slave trader, where they would experience further torture (Jacobs, 11). He relentlessly tried to bend Harriet’s will coaxing her and whispering nasty words in her ear but never succeeded. He built Harriet a cottage away from his family so that the wife would not suspect anything. Her pea to marry a free black man was revoked violently, by the master (Jacobs, 17). She went to the extent of conceiving a child for a white lawyer so that she would be sold. However, her attempts were not fruitful since she was never sold as a slave. He constantly harassed her, even planned to put them to work in the plantations. At this stage, she escaped and lived among her neighbors, both white and black. Her life worsened and considered slavery harder for women than men. She not only denied her child but also lived in deplorable conditions; mice and rats crawled on her in her poorly lit room without ventilation.

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Part of her strategies to escape slavery includes being a mother and hiding for seven years. She had to live in a crawl place for seven years and only came out at night. She hides in her grandmother’s house within her master’s domain without them noticing. All these factors provide her with the opportunity to escape. It grants the opportunity to imagine and locating the resistance against slavery. After many years of hiding, Harriet’s friend Peter organizes another escape for her. At the end of the seven years, her hideout was often hit by storms and was falling apart. By the end of this time, the building is falling apart, and rainstorms often soak her. She has to endure further the long treacherous journey to Philadelphia as a way to seek freedom (Jacobs, 118). Here, she meets with new people, a slave Fanny, the captain, and his crew, who becomes her close allies.

The aftermath of Nat Turner’s rebellion is a significant part of Harriet’s life. There are conflicting ideas about brotherhood and morals. The Christian doctrine teaches about brotherhood and love, seeing all the amoral behavior and the brutality that people who claim to be Christian change her perception. Here, she addresses the problems facing the black community. There is lawlessness, unlawful searches, and ransacking of slave cabins (Jacobs, 63). The black people were terrorized, and they were generally perceived as rebels. She begins to get an insight into the concept of religion against what society is doing. She describes the difference between religion and Christianity and the difference between whites and blacks (Jacobs, 68). The spirituality for the blacks was more rooted in their ancestral Africa, and the hypocrisy the whites depict in trying to denounce these religions (Jacobs, 43). In short, she shows how the whites thought that their culture was inferior.

From the experiences Harriet had in her life as a slave, it is evident that slavery is cruelty against humankind. People are used, demeaned and demoralized by other races to a level of utter inferiority. The most troubling aspects of being a slave include being a woman and being manipulated by one’s master to do his sexual bidding (Jacobs, 28). It is risky since there is nobody to protect them from harm. Another factor is the ransacking of slaves cabins with the notion they are rebels, treating them like animals, and being sold like merchandize.

The book is an interesting piece of history that we cannot ignore at all. Slavery took place and various devastating effects on people. Not only did it demoralize people, but it also planted a seed of hate that gave birth to racism. The book is a real picture of transpired in the past and its gruesomeness. However, it also gives hope since, in the end, slavery is banned, and the struggles of the freedom fighters bear fruit. I would recommend the book to both young and adult audiences since it bears facts and motivation to have hope even when it appears blurry.

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Slavery And Freedom In The Novel Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. (2021, September 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 19, 2022, from
“Slavery And Freedom In The Novel Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl.” Edubirdie, 16 Sept. 2021,
Slavery And Freedom In The Novel Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 Aug. 2022].
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