Not only one of the last of over one hundred slave narratives published separately before the Civil War, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) is also one of the few existing narratives written by a woman. It offers a unique perspective on the complex plight of the black woman as slaveand as writer. In a story that merges the conventions of the slave narrative with the techniques of the sentimental novel, Harriet Jacobs describes her efforts to fight off the advances of her master, her eventual liaison with another white man (the father of two of her children), and herultimately successful struggle for freedom. Jacobs' account of her experiences, and her search for her own voice, prefigure the literary and ideological concerns of generations of African-American women writers to come.
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.
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.
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.
The courage this woman had to pursue what she wanted and needed for herself and her children is inspiring.
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.
I speak harshly, and many people would resent me for that. I don't deny that many people still are vulgar enough not to take matters like this seriously, and there is no way that I wouldn't take the cruelties of this to heart and advocate every right of every person ever enslaved in this country to shout their experiences and rights, and rub them in the faces of those who would ignore them. My own personal feelings are biased because of my education, where too often I had tales like this shoved daily down my throat in every literature class when all I wanted to do was to read something that would cater to my child-like imagination. I almost never received it.
Harriet Jacobs account of her own life experiences are a blessing to people like us, who never had to experience what she went through, and yet could face every single ounce of the horrors and injuries that she bore as she strove for her freedom, for her children's freedom, and for the safety of those around her who helped where help was least expected. It is an account that gives insight, that rumbles onwards with defiant and knowledgeable experience, and shows us all the things that a woman must go through when she is faced with the circumstance of slavery. And while fiendish, while cruel, while vile and disgusting--everything that Jacobs gave us was an account that awoke in us the ability to acknowledge what she went through, without being turned away by the grotesque descriptions of things already too well known. At least, in my part, too often thrown in my face.
I appreciated Jacobs for that, for writing something that for once did not try to force its way into my head and fill my mind with things that contaminated it more than educated it. Should the truth be concealed from us? Absolutely not! Can the truth be harsh? Of course it can. But thank the blessed Lord that someone had the decency to tell us her story without blatantly describing the--*Shudders*--the WORDS that planted slimy, obscene thoughts in a young girl's skull, or the way she was TOUCHED... *Turns away her face in disgust and horror* PLEASE. Do I understand that that's what some women went through in slavery and that it was horrible? YES. I DO. But God help me! All the absolutely base things that were written and described that I NEVER wanted to have to entertain! A child is smart enough to know when and what horrors lurk in words even when those acts of vileness are not described and only hinted at. Jacobs either could not bear to recount those things to us out of her own unwillingness to relive them in such graphic detail, or she was kind enough to spare us the horror of what she went through in order to give us the greater message: that she STROVE for her freedom, because she knew it was a God-given right to her and her children, and by keeping faith, by doing her very best and being an honorable, determined, persevering woman, she achieved something that should have been hers from the very beginning. It is a success story unlike so many others, and one well worth listening to.
For that discretion alone, and her magnificent character, I would give the book the highest rating, but I cannot lie and say it was amazing when I felt nothing of that feeling evoked in me throughout its pages. Yet, in comparison to the other books I have read on the subject, this one far outdoes the others. Some would say blasphemy! That I'm a coward and a poltroon, who cannot handle the truth. I tell them if they want to eat up all those disgusting details of others' sufferings, then go right ahead! I honor and respect the woman with enough discretion to CARE about what she reveals, and who still finds a way to leave us with the unblemished truths to think about while saving us from the tortures of her own experiences. It doesn't undermine them. Not one bit. It only heightens my respect and admiration for her, and though this has been written so long, long ago, I wish I could go up to her and shake her hand, with tears in my eyes. Because for this woman, no words are enough to express the joy I feel for her, and what she finally was able to receive in this life.
It's a good book. Is it fantastic? Like I said, something like this cannot be fantastic, as far as I'm concerned. It was, however, something I felt was worth the reading. On that note, if you would enjoy something written upon the subject matters it touches--slavery, oppressed women, and the like--then it's recommended. Pick it up. It's good for a read.
"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.
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).
The characters are very well developed in this book. The author used characters from her own experiences as a slave, although she did change the names of some of the characters to protect their identities. The main character, Linda Brent, was actually a pseudonym for Harriet Jacobs. The story follows her life and her experiences as a slave. As a reader, you are able to gain so much insight into the mindset of a female slave. Her relationship with Dr. Flint (her new master once her mother and the mothers mistress had passed away) was a very disturbing relationship. He attempted to create a sexual relationship with Linda. The reader bears witness to the mindset of Dr. Flint, who would rather use tricks and cunningness to lure Linda into a sexual relationship, rather than just rape. After all, slaves were considered to be the property of their master, whom which could do whatever they wanted with their property. Other characters include Linda's family, including her brother, who she is very close to. Her brother escapes from his master. I feel that this event in the story shows how all slaves have the mindset that freedom is desired above all else.
The characters point of view was also very important to the story, as well as very well written. As I mentioned above, the book followed the telling's of Linda Brent. Being a pseudonym to Harriet Jacobs, this book is considered to be an autobiography of her life as a slave. She tells the story with extreme detail. However, Jacobs reveals in the beginning of the book that there were aspects of her story that she could not bear to write down on paper. These details are able to create a vivid image for the reader. Although there are no illustrations in the book, the author uses word choice and language very effectively to create pictures in the readers head.
I enjoy reading books about war times and hardships. Out of all of the books that I have read about slavery, I believe that this may be the best written one. To read about personal experiences and real life events, it is much more descriptive than I would have ever thought when I picked up this book.