In her autobiography, From Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs, known in her narrative as Linda Brent as a pseudonym, writes about her life as a slave growing up and soon as an escaped slave. When she was just a little girl she was made ought to be seen as she was not a slave.
She was taken good proper care for throughout her whole entire childhood. While she was growing up, she was treated like an actual human being and did not have to go through any horrible conditions like any other slave would have to. Jacobs did not find out that she was a slave till she was around 6 years old when her mother died. The way she was taken care of and well-treated by her mother, mistress, and her grandmother made her the woman she would eventually become and that would cause her strong sense of self.
During Jacobs’ early childhood, she has had people, specifically three, that would make her become the person she would eventually be. The mother of Jacobs, was not in Jacobs’ life as much, but even though she was only in Harriet’s life for six years, she had a huge impact in her life. Her mother’s death had a huge impact on her life because once she passed away she finds out that she was a slave. She had no idea that she was a slave because her mother shielded her from slavery and kept her away from it. When Harriet’s mother was in her death-bed her mistress, Margaret Horniblow, promised that she would take care of Harriet and she kept that promise that she made.
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Harriet had the privilege to learn how to read and write by her mistress which was prohibited for any slave to learn to do. For the next six years, Harriet was taken well proper care of till her mistress passed away. The next person who had an impact in Harriet’s was her grandmother, Molly Horniblow, who is best known by her friends and family as Aunt Martha. “To this good grandmother I was indebted for many comforts” (pp. 880).
Throughout her whole childhood, Harriet had all the support from her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother would give her and her brother William all the food that she could get. ”My brother Willie and I often received portions of the crackers, cakes, and preserves, she made to sell” (pp. 850). Harriet received every amount of affection by her grandmother. “As a mother and her devotion to family obviously take precedence over personal liberty and self-determination” (Kreiger). In Jacobs’ narrative, one can see how much family is very important to her. Her grandmother plays a role for Jacobs’ love for her family.
When Aunt Martha is willing to pay everything for her children and Jacobs sending her children to her grandmother since her mistress Emily Flint and her husband were looking for her, she knew she could not take care of them knowing that is how a mother should take care of her children.
These three women–her mother, mistress, and grandmother–were the cause for Harriet’s strong sense of self and would play a part to her life decisions when she does not give in to her master, when she chooses her own lover, when she does not agree to be bought, when she hides for years, and when she writes this narrative. These decisions that she makes on her own proves how fearless she was because around this time period, which was around the late nineteenth century, women did not have a say in anything –especially slaves–but she made a say in everything in her life and did not have someone else decide her life choices.
Before Harriet’s mistress Margaret passed away, she left a will. In her will, she left Harriet for her sister’s daughter, Emily Brent, who at the time was still very young, so her mistress and master were Dr. Flint and Mrs. Flint. ”From Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl also links what Linda Brent considers the most damning aspect of slavery—the sexual exploitation of women” (Cope). The sexual exploitation in her narrative is relating to her master Dr. Flint. Jacobs does not give in to Dr. Flint and is not afraid to answer back defiantly nor for the consequences.
When Jacobs sent a letter to Dr Flint for him to sell her to a freed man that she loved, she felt assured that he would sell her. He argued with her and even threatened her for answering back defiantly. “You have tried to kill me, and I wish you had; but you have no right to do as you like with me” (pp. 884). This quote said by Jacobs shows how fearless she is and how she tells Dr Flint that “he has no right” because her owner is Emily Brent, his daughter or she might be telling Dr. Flint that he has no right because she believed that she had a right. While in Saratoga, she refused to eat in the kitchen and finally was able to eat in a main dining room.
"She’s confident in her own sense of worth” (Wolfe). Jacobs’ as a child was always treated equally, she knew that she should also be respected just like any other person. She fought her way to get the respect she knew she deserved. “Sexual abuse is not only likely but inevitable, Linda’s universalizing language suggests, her description of her own pursuit by Dr. Flint quickly branching into a description of the slave girl’s fate in general” (Cope).
Dr. Flint sexually abusing Jacobs was most likely to happen since he started building a cottage in the middle of nowhere but she prevented it from happening by making a choice that she felt ashamed in doing. She had known a white man named Mr. Sands who treated her kindly and decided that the only way that she could be free is becoming a mother by giving herself to him. “She violates the most basic tenet of womanhood (virtue) to fulfill the basic requirement of contract freedom” (Cope). She chose to become pregnant because she knew that Dr. Flint would sell her. She feels ashamed for having lost her pureness but she in a way sacrificed herself to someone so she can finally have a better life. Not only would she be having a life but for her daughter as well.
After Jacobs tells Dr. Flint that she will become a mother, she cannot imagine what her master will do to her if she goes back. Instead of going to Dr. Flint she goes to her grandmother’s home and ends up hiding in Aunt Martha’s attic for years in order to not be taken by Dr. Flint. “Jacobs’s treatment of death enriches what I suggest is the more significant development of death as a metaphor for Brent’s experience in hiding” (Kreiger). Jacobs spent years in hiding from Dr. Flint that she had to give up years apart from her family and did not get to enjoy and memories with her children. “Through my peeping-hole I could watch the children, and when they were near enough” (pp. 893).
Jacobs hiding from her children and everyone else is just a way for her to say that she might as well be considered dead because even though she is there under the same room with them, she is not really there. She is not able to talk with her children so it is almost as if she is a ghost. Her hiding in the attic for years shows how strong she is for staying up there for so long and not giving up. Jacobs whole life was her having to be strong not only for herself but for her children.
“Jacobs acknowledged the take would shock audiences, but attempted to justify her actions” (Campbell). She knew telling the audience how in order to not get taken advantage of by Dr. Flint she decides to get pregnant by another man. “It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the truth” (pp. 887). Knowing this would shock the audience that she gave herself to Mr. Sands so she can finally become free, she tries justifying herself that she had to do it in order to start living.
Harriet Jacobs writes this narrative to show the life of not just a slave but being an African American woman. Her mother and grandmother showing her how to love and her mistress helping her to learn how to read and write was how she was able to write this narrative. The women in her life that helped her along the way were an important role in her life and helped her make these decisions that she had to do.
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