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Harriet Jacobs' Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl Essay

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Harriet Jacobs' Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl


The feminist movement sought to gain rights for women. Many feminist during the early nineteenth century fought for the abolition of slavery around the world. The slave narrative became a powerful feminist tool in the nineteenth century. Black and white women are fictionalized and objectified in the slave narrative. White women are idealized as pure, angelic, and chaste while black woman are idealized as exotic and contained an uncontrollable, savage sexuality. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, brought the sexual oppression of captive black women into the public and political arena.

Harriet Jacobs takes a great risk writing her trials as a house servant in the south and a fugitive in the north. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gives a true account of the brutality slavery held for women. A perspective that was relatively secretive during Jacobs’ time. Jacobs’ narrative focuses on subjugation due to race but it also portrays many women an strong and often open roles. Women in these roles were minimal and often suffered for their outspoken roles.

Harriet Jacobs’ narrative is a powerful statement unveiling the impossibility and undesirability of achieving the ideal put forth by men and maintained by women. Jacobs directs her account of the afflictions a woman is subjected to in the chain of slavery to women of the north to gain sympathy for their sisters that were enslaved in the south. In showing this, Jacobs reveals the danger of such self disapprobation women maintained by accepting the idealized role that men have set a goal for which to strive. She suggests that slave women be judged by different standards than those applied to other women. Jacobs develops a moral code that apprises the specific social and historical position of captive black women. Jacobs’ will power and strength shown in her narrative are characteristics of womanly behavior being developed by the emerging feminist movement.

In struggling against the brutal dynamics of a system that simultaneously set before her ideals of a true woman, but refused to acknowledge her as a human being, Jacobs emerges scarred but victorious. Her rational powers and will to action facilitate her efforts to find strategies for dealing with sexual harassment from her master, for maintaining family unity, and in estab...


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...denying society’s firm position for women by refusing to be owned, refusing to submit , and refusing to be bought out of her captivity. Linda rejects the notion of true womanhood that has been passes on for centuries and takes control of her future and her children’s future. Linda gains her peace by escaping to the north.

Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is one of the few narratives depicting the degradation’s endured by female slaves at the hand of brutal masters. Jacobs’ narrative is sending a message to women to come together and end the unfair treatment all women are subjected to. By bringing images of slavery and the message of unity of women to the forefront, Jacobs is attempting to end the tyranny over women perpetrated by men and the tyranny over blacks perpetrated by whites. Integrity and agency are ideals that Americans have fought for over the years. Jacobs reshapes these ideas and makes decisions and takes full reposibilities for her actions to become the ideal and representative image of womanhood.

Work Cited:

Gates, Henry Louis Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company


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