REVIEW: “The Life of a Slave Girl”

Slavery: A Corrupting, Futile Exercise

Amazon Thrift Edition or Free Text from Project Gutenberg


In her account of a servants in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs works in great detail to share with the reader the cold realities of institutional slavery, examining the morally corrupting influence it has upon the master and the degradation in the spirit of the slave; both human, but separated by color in a relationship that bears tragic consequences to both parties.

In her life as a possession, Linda, the character of which this story is centered around, grows up, at first, unaware of her role as a slave under white masters.  She is raised early on by her parents who protect her from the harshness of their situation, providing a loving and nurturing relationship.  It is from those early recollections she finds herself as capable as any other, longing for the normalcy of having her own home and family, and it is her persistence in this dream that carries her through the rougher moments of her servitude at the hands of an ill-willed and villainous master, Dr. Flint.  She takes pride in the levels of independence she is able to attain for herself, maintaining her own strong will and protection/control of her body by her knowledge and cunning.  Her hopes for herself become put on hold after motherhood, for the chance that her children will be able to have a piece of freedom, family, and shelter for themselves.  She sacrifices years of her life in hiding so that they will have an easier existence away from the control of Dr. Flint.

“I should never know peace till my children were emancipated.”  Linda

The antagonist of this narrative, Dr. Flint, is a morally bankrupt individual, lacking s any redeeming qualities. He is thoroughly one-dimensional, totally corrupted by the power that the slave system grants him. He sees no reason not to use and abuse his slaves in any way he chooses, and he never shows any signs of sympathy for them or remorse for his crimes. If he expresses kindness, it is invariably a ruse to try to get Linda to sleep with him. It often seems that forcing Linda to submit to him is more important to him than simply sleeping with her. He is infuriated by her defiance, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of breaking her will. Rather than simply raping her, he persists in his efforts make her acknowledge his mastery.  Dr. Flint seeks to lock Linda up in an isolated cottage in the woods so he can sleep with her freely.  When Linda escapes, he pursues her relentlessly, putting himself hundreds of dollars in debt to chase her to New York. After his death, his spirit lives on in the form of his son-in-law, Mr. Dodge.

“If I have been harsh with you at times, your willfulness drove me to it,.  You know I exact obedience from my own children, and I consider you as yet a child.”  Dr. Flint

This book shows the futility of such a practice.  It makes both the slave and the master less of a human.  Dr. Flint is cruel, hypocritical, and conniving, and he never experiences a moment of guilt, self-doubt, or sympathy for his victims. He never questions his right to do whatever he pleases to his slaves. Dr. Flint represents the cruelty, callousness, and treachery of the entire slave system.  He symbolizes the defining qualities that the system of slavery prerequisites: a lust for power, moral corruption, and a brutal nature. When Linda defies him, she threatens the legitimacy of slavery itself, and it is this defiance that propels his insistence on “mastering” her.

2008 – American History

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