This autobiographical account by a former slave is one of the few extant narratives written by a woman. Written and published in 1861, it delivers an unflinching portrayal of the brutality of slave life. Jacobs speaks frankly of her master's abuse and her eventual escape, in an inspirational account of one woman's dauntless spirit and faith.--From publisher description.
I have heard that this book is not the actual life of one person, but rather a collection of stories put together and released as an abolitionist document. I say either way these atrocities did occur and it’s important to bring these slave stories to light.
While the book at times is over-written in the language of the day, it still manages to convey the corruption and dehumanization of slavery. Putting this book into our hands makes it impossible to turn away from the history of persecution and ill-treatment that slavery brought to so many. So, not a book to enjoy, but certainly a book to educate and inform.
Spiritual leaders like Dinesh D'Souza and historians like Thaddeus Russell have have parroted the Confederate belief that idealizing the rebellion against slavery is a source of disability among some African Americans. In his book The End of Racism (D'Souza) asserted that the "American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well." Perhaps D'Souza has a very limited imagination if he cannot think of the ways property can be misused and the implications of this misuse when the property is a human being. Russell says that slave families were of course split up, but so were non slave families because children had to be sent from home to work. Jacobs, having heard that argument even in the 19th century describes just such English families that have to separate to find work but who are able to communicate with each other, thus maintain the family. Slave families, once broken up, often didn't even know where the various members had been sent.
The most impressive part of the book to me was the account of the slave's life once she had escaped to the North. Just as all romances used to end with marriage, "and they lived happily ever after", accounts of escape from slavery usually end with the joy of escape. However, in the US the slave couldn't relax in her new found freedom because she was at all times subject to capture and return even from the "enlightened" cities of Boston and New York. The description Jacobs gives of the way she raised her children, sending one to boarding school and the other off with a brother reminded me of the Filipino people I have known and the fluid child rearing methods immigrants have always used to try to guarantee the futures of their children.
I recommend this book to anyone wanting to get an accurate picture of slavery, and of the treatment of women.
Unfortunately this version has illustrations on the cover and embedded within it that are completely unrelated to the story. One illustration, page 232 cannot be read even with a jeweler's headband, very poor illustrations. The author's name is in fine print in the introduction and on page 251 instead of somewhere on the cover, dust kacket, binding, or with the publishing information or title page. There is a lot about a person named Bob Carruthers both inside the book, and on the dust cover, complete with an Academy Award picture, apparently belonging to Bob Carrutheres. I find all this Bob Carruthers promotion a distraction from the real author, so I give this version ony 4 stars, not more.
"I admit that the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South..." or here,
"Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! 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 a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You never exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a hated tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and trembled within hearing his voice,' just to highlight a few.
Coming out on the other end of this narrative, I have a greater appreciation for my own basic HUMAN liberties that I take for granted every day. Jacobs' story moves me as a woman, angers me as an African, and shames me as an American to know that this is part of my history.
The courage this woman had to pursue what she wanted and needed for herself and her children is inspiring.
Her name was Linda. She was owned by the very young daughter of a doctor, but the doctor treated her as his own. She resisted his attempts to seduce her and managed to evade his direct orders to make her body available to him at will. She was quite valuable since she had light skin (the daughter of mullatoes) so he didn't dare lessen her value in any way.
Eventually she was seduced by a white man who she trusted; he had convinced her he would buy her and set her free. She had two children by him which of course infuriated Dr. Flint, her owner's father. When the children are still quite young, she finds herself in such danger that she must leave her children with her aged grandmother in order to escape. She spends many years hidden in an attic of a shed where she is unable to stand up before she is able to escape to the North.
Linda's story is one of courage and heartbreak, a story of almost unendurable physical and mental abuse and hardship, but throughout a story of a woman's pride despite being a slave and her devotion to her family, particularly her children. It is also the story of the courage of people willing to help her and her children. I found it as page-turning as a mystery novel and even more frightening since it was a true story.
I recommend this free book to Kindle owners.
The despicable acts of the slaveholders is coupled with the blind eye of the North (for even though they were "free" states, their lack of humanity toward blacks is evident). Jacob's descriptions of such events are heartbreaking and horrifying and her pursuit of freedom from this (for herself and her children) is admirable and inspiring.
To have written and published this in 1861 shows what tremendous strength of character Harriet Jacobs had, especially as she includes some fairly scathing commentary on the racism she and her children faced in the "free states" of New York and Massachusetts. I can see how incendiary this book must have been when it came out! Even as an emancipated woman living in a free state, it must have been dangerous for her (even using a pseudonym).
Harriet Jacobs tells her story in such a straightforward manner as to compell belief, and while the abuses she describes are now well-known, it must have taken a tremendous amount of strength of mind to write and publish this in 1861. She not only documents the terrible degradations of slavery, but also the racism she and her children are forced to undergo in the "free states" of New York and Massachusetts.