Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave GirlBook cover showing older woman sitting in chair with work on her lap, and younger woman bending over her shoulder to help.
Harriet Ann Jacobs

Born into slavery, Jacobs details her years being considered chattel instead of human. She specifies the horrors of slavery unique to the female bodied – constantly living under the threat of rape, forced pregnancy, retribution from masters’ wives, and more.

She enters into a relationship of her choosing, thinking it will quell her master’s advances towards her. Unfortunately, it does not. He continues to harass and threaten her, obsessed with the idea of breaking her will and finally having her submit to him. The lengths she goes through to escape from him are incredible. She spends seven years in a tiny attic because there is no safe way to leave the area.

All slave masters were not like this one, but Jacobs points out that none of them were “good.” They casually transferred slaves at the owners death, disposing of them like the family china.  They promised to free them, but what is a promise to one that is less than human? When financial troubles arose, even the best owner would be tempted to sell off some of his holdings – even if they were his own children.

Want more like this? Try: 

  • JoAnn Wypijewski, “Reproductive Rights and the Long Hand of Slave Breeding.” This article in The Nation is both insight into the life of slave women like Jacobs and a link to current struggles.
  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. (My review) Perhaps the most famous slave narrative ever written. Definitely worth the read.
  • Afua Cooper, The Hanging of Angelique. (My review) A look at slavery in the supposed idyllic north of Canada, and one young woman’s rebellion.

2 thoughts on “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

  1. Pingback: The Classics Club | Wandering in the Stacks

  2. Pingback: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth | Wandering in the Stacks

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