Stirring up the North to See the Horrors of Slavery: Harriet Jacobs’s Narrative "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl"

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Educating the North of the horrors of slavery through the use of literature was one strategy that led to the questioning, and ultimately, the abolition of slavery. Therefore, Harriet Jacobs’s narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is very effective in using various tactics in order to get women in the North to pay attention and question the horrifying conditions in the South. By acknowledging that not all slaveholders were inhumane, explaining the horrific abuse and punishments slaves endured, and comparing the manner in which whites and slaves spent their holidays, Jacobs’s narrative serves its purpose of arousing Northern women to take notice of the appalling conditions two million Southern slaves continued to endure.

If Jacobs had only told stories of “the evil slaveholders”, she would have portrayed that all whites were vile people. As a result, white women in the North would have looked right past such a book, and thus not bothered to pick it up and read it. If Northern women had chosen to read the narrative and Jacobs condemned all whites, Northern women would immediately feel attacked. Hence, by acknowledging some humane whites, Northern women were not instantly turned off and as a result, more keen to trust Jacobs’s stories. Therefore, it was very effective that Jacobs acknowledges some of the humane whites in North Carolina at the beginning of her narrative. Jacobs opens her narrative sharing that although she was born a slave, she did not know it until she was six years old when her mother died. When Jacobs’s mother passed away, Jacobs’s new home was to be with her mother’s mistress. Jacobs’s mother’s mistress was the daughter of Jacobs’s grandmother’s mistress, or foster sister of Jacobs’s mother. Therefore,...

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...uring New Years’, Jacobs calls Northern women out to relate to an important aspect of a woman’s life, children and family. Jacobs showed how during a time that should be filled with celebration, was rather filled with the ripping apart of families for slaves. Jacobs used this tactic to force Northern women to sympathize with the life a slave must endure and make Northern women contemplate how they would feel if the roles were reversed.

Using her various tactics, Jacobs’s narrative was very effective in gaining attention from Northern women. By acknowledging some humane slaveholders, sharing the shocking abuse slaves endured, and comparing New Year’s Day for slaves as opposed to whites, Jacobs’s narrative informed many Northern women of the horrific conditions in the South. As a result, her narrative provoked many Northern women to aid in the fight against slavery.