preview

Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

Good Essays
In "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl", Harriet Jacobs writes, "Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women" (64). Jacobs' work shows the evils of slavery as being worse in a woman's case by the gender. Jacobs elucidates the disparity between societal dictates of what the proper roles were for Nineteenth century women and the manner that slavery prevented a woman from fulfilling these roles. The book illustrates the double standard of for white women versus black women. Harriet Jacobs serves as an example of the female slave's desire to maintain the prescribed virtues but how her circumstances often prevented her from practicing.

Expectations of the women of the era resided in four arenas: piety, purity, domesticity and obedience. The conditions that the female slave lived in were opposed to the standards and virtues set by the society. It resulted in the female slave being refused what was considered the identity of womanhood. It was another manner in which slavery attempted to eliminate the slaves' value of themselves. Jacobs continually struggled with this. Her belief in the ideas of piety, purity, domesticity and is highlighted in her admiration of one rare, caring mistress.

Piety was one of the subscribed to qualities. However, in order for one to be pious and obtain religious insight, it would be necessary to read the Bible. This would be an obstacle for the overwhelming majority of slave women as illiteracy was prevalent, Jacobs wrote,."..it was contrary to the law; and that slaves were whipped and imprisoned for teaching each other to read" (61). As Jacobs knew how to read and write, illiteracy was not an impediment. Yet, slaves were forbidden to meet in their own churches, ...

... middle of paper ...

...nd annihilation of a female slave as an individual being. To practice that kind of obedience, to be submissive, would be certain death to Jacobs, whether in the physical or spiritual sense. Jacobs' "disobedience" occurred when her piety, purity and domesticity where threatened. Instead, Jacobs exhorted obedience to the precept of morality. Moreover, she adhered to obedience of what was considered moral and just for white women.

The prescribed of ideas of what construed womanhood in the 1800s surrounded a purity, piety, domesticity and obedience. Those were most of the characteristics that were not permitted for the female slave to practice or acquire. Examining the experiences of Harriet Jacobs in "Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl", one witness that while Jacobs desired to practice the dictates of her time slavery forced her to often do otherwise.
Get Access