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Life of A Slave Girl

Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, a black woman, who managed to escape from the oppression of slavery, wrote about the violation and degradation imposed on female slaves in her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave. Before her escape to the North, Jacobs conceals herself in the attic and writes letters to her master addressed from the North. Her concealment in an attic for seven years enables her to manipulate her master. After her escape she penned her narrative which has since become a landmark in American literature. Most anti-slavery books were written by whites imagining what it was like to be a black slave. Incidents gave authenticity to the plight through the authors own experiences.

As Jacobs put it, "slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs and sufferings and mortification's peculiarly their own". Rape was just one of these mortification's. Plantation owners had sex with who they wanted when they wanted and this was common knowledge--even their wives knew it. Some got jealous and treated their husband's favorites with contempt or abused them. Some tried to make it stop; but only out of jealousy, not from any sort of sympathy for the black women getting abused by their husbands. Others turned their heads the other way because they saw their husband's promiscuity as inevitable and would rather have him raping the slave women, which was conventional and even acceptable in society, than have him sleeping with another white woman.

Jacobs own story, is a remarkable story of survival that reveals the hidden threats experienced by a slave women. She was subjected to the following:

  • A sexually-threatening and abusive master
  • A cruel mistress
  • Jacobs survived several years in a tiny attic, hiding from her master.
  • Although Jacobs was never physically beaten, Dr. Flint, her master, emotionally abused her.
  • He wanted to sleep with Jacobs and constantly told her that "she was his property; that she must be subject to his will in all things".

Dr. Flint's desire led to conflict between Jacobs and himself. Jacobs refused to submit to Dr. Flint's demands, no matter how hard he tried. She had her own values and resented being treated like a piece of property. Jacobs reacted towards this conflict by resenting her master:

"O, how I despised him! I thought how glad I should be, if some day when he walked the earth, it would open and swallow him up, and disencumber the world of a plague . . . When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in everything; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong. "

Jacobs was a very strong individual to stand up for what she believed in. Interestingly, her master never beat her for her rebellion. Jacobs witnessed her relatives enduring incredible injustices. Her grandmother, a stereotypical mammy, who devotedly served her master all her life, witnessed most of her children being sold into slavery. In spite of Harriet Jacobs' book, she herself was not able to completely escape her plight, for she still remained in a "free" subservient situation with little hope of helping her daughter escape the struggles she had undergone.

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