Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Posted by Anthony Bettina, GD Creative Non-Fiction Reader for 5.2

Yes, everyone in America knows (or at least should know) about the plight of the African-American from the inception of The United States America to present day. It is a topic of frequent discussion in political and social circles alike when addressing concerns such as the legitimacy of Affirmative Action in an attempt to counter-act the unforgivable wrongs of slavery in America.  But, what we as Americans fail to do is truly understand the horrors of slavery and its lasting impact on America.

What Harriet Jacobs does in her narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is truly remarkable. As a partially self-taught speaker & writer of English, she manages to eloquently explain the natural rights denied to the common black woman, whether this be the right to their own children, right to consent, or right to abide by their own religious beliefs. To get a more in depth look at her life, I encourage you to read this biography about her, and to learn more about slavery in America in general check here. Her relationship with her first master- “Dr. Flint” is especially revealing.  

Flint is a relatively well-off slave owner who manipulates Harriet and her children by attempting to explain to them that the life of a free black person is difficult. He explains, that under his rule they will most certainly lead happier, more fulfilling lives, with all of the amenities he can provide to them with his own wealth. Flint further manipulates Jacobs by building her her own home, miles off the plantation for what he explains to be the benefit of her comfort, when in reality, he is building her this home so he may rape her at his own leisure. The narrative rarely discusses instances of intense physical brutality towards slaves, and instead focuses on the manipulation of master to slave relationships which provides an entirely new insight as to how sickening the entity of slavery is. Flint attempted to withhold Jacobs’ children from her, subjected her to verbal abuse from his wife, and tried to convince her and her children that the life of a slave is one of being taken care of, whereas the life of a free African American is difficult and discriminatory. This type of fear-mongering is even applicable in society today.

The true importance of Jacobs’ narrative about slavery in today’s America does not come from her explanation of the illegitimacy of slavery (although that is, and will always be unbelievably important). come about when men who lack decency similar to Dr. Flint are empowered. I implore you to pick up a copy of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and analyze the character of Dr. Flint in hopes of understanding how bad policies come from bad people.

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