Essay on Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Essay on Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


A recurring theme in, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, is Harriet Jacobs's reflections on what slavery meant to her as well as all women in bondage. Continuously, Jacobs expresses her deep hatred of slavery, and all of its implications. She dreads such an institution so much that she sometimes regards death as a better alternative than a life in bondage. For Harriet, slavery was different than many African Americans. She did not spend her life harvesting cotton on a large plantation. She was not flogged and beaten regularly like many slaves. She was not actively kept from illiteracy. Actually, Harriet always was treated relatively well. She performed most of her work inside and was rarely ever punished, at the request of her licentious master. Furthermore, she was taught to read and sew, and to perform other tasks associated with a ?ladies? work. Outwardly, it appeared that Harriet had it pretty good, in light of what many slaves had succumbed to. However, Ironically Harriet believes these fortunes were actually her curse. The fact that she was well kept and light skinned as well as being attractive lead to her victimization as a sexual object. Consequently, Harriet became a prospective concubine for Dr. Norcom. She points out that life under slavery was as bad as any slave could hope for. Harriet talks about her life as slave by saying, ?You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of chattel, entirely subject to the will of another.? (Jacobs p. 55).

In the earliest part of Harriet?s life the whole idea of slavery was foreign to her. As all little girls she was born with a mind that only told her place in the world was that of a little girl. She had no capacity to understand the hardships that she inherited. She explains how her, ?heart was as free from care as that of any free-born white child.?(Jacobs p. 7) She explains this blissful ignorance by not understanding that she was condemned at birth to a life of the worst kind oppression. Even at six when she first became familiar with the realization that people regarded her as a slave, Harriet could not conceptualize the weight of what this meant. She say?s that her circumstances as slave girl were unusua...


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...ve interest was free born and wished to marry her. However, after Harriet?s attempts to pursued her master to sell her to the young neighbor failed she was left worse off than before. Dr. Norcom was so cruel he forbade Harriet anymore contact with the young man. Harriet?s next love came when she gave birth to her first child. Her son Benny was conceived as a way to get around Dr. Norcom?s reign of terror. However, this is a subject that was very painful for her. She conveys to the reader that she has great regret for the length she went to stop her Master. Along with her own guilt she carries the memories of her Grandmother?s reaction to the news of her pregnancy. Clearly this was a very traumatic time in Harriet?s life. In light of these difficult events Harriet once again found love and hope in her new born son. ?When I was most sorely oppressed I found solace in his smiles. I loved to watch his infant slumber: but always there was a dark cloud over my enjoyment. I could never forget that he was a slave.? (Jacobs p. 62)

Works Cited

Jacobs, Harriet. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." The Classic Slave Narratives. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Mentor, 1987.

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