Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813. She was unaware that she was a slave until her mid childhood. Growing up, a doctor, by the name of Norcom would constantly abuse her to the point that she wanted to resist his advances. She had an affair with an attorney named Sawyer and had children. Norcom sent her to a country plantation and Jacobs went into hiding. Sawyer purchased her, but did not free her children. In a few decades, Jacobs worked in a family of writers, the Wilis, and grew close with the wife, an abolitionist.
Through the help of the Cornelia Wilis, Jacobs was purchased from Norcom’s daughter and was emancipated. In the narrative, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Jacobs depicts herself by the name of Linda Brent to describe her first person experience as a slave. One may notice how her biography is closely accurate to her own narrative, except that Jacobs altered the names of the people that she was affiliated with, including herself. Her editor gave credit that her narrative was true, since it was questionable for an African American to get his or her work published unless it was authorized by a White person.
Throughout the narrative, Linda (Jacobs) goes through a severe amount of abuse and disheartening events deriving from slavery. From sexual and physical abuse, to the separation of support systems, and the lack of rights to freedom, female slaves had so much worse than male slaves. Therefore, one may argue that the effects of slavery took a toll on the rights of African American female slaves. Slavery leads to the corruption of both the slaves and the slaveholders’ morality, thus resulting in the abuse of female slaves and the failure to secure their own rights.
One example would feature Dr. Flint threatening Linda about building a cottage for both of them to live in (Jacobs 919). Given the fact that Dr. Flint sexually abuses her before even mentioning the cottage foreshadows that he would have done worse in the cottage and no one would know a single bit of it. Another example is Dr. Flint’s attempt to get a hold of Linda while she goes into hiding. Jacobs claimed that, “Dr. Flint and his family repeatedly tried to coax and bribe my children to tell something they had heard said about me.
One day the doctor took them into a shop and offered them some bright little silver pieces and gay handkerchiefs if they would tell where their mother was” (Jacob 925). It is clear that Dr. Flint has a moral and ego conflict, due to the slavery mindset of viewing slaves as property. If he has her, it would be an ego boost. Sadly for Linda, that mindset would torment her into living in fear. In the presence of slavery, many slaves fear of being abused by their slave owners—from rape, threats, and physical abuse.
For female slaves, the abuse leads them into believing that they are hopeless and end up not fighting for their rights. Therefore, the corruption does not allow the female slaves to find their way to freedom. Furthermore, the skewed mindset influenced by slavery leads to the creation of the obstacles that reduces the chances of freedom and rights. Ruthless slave laws restrict access to freedom, thus conflicting the rights of female slaves. According to LeRoy-Fraiser, “the concept of literacy [is] only one of the many weapons Jacobs wields in her sexual as well as a racial struggle against her owner, Dr. Flint” (LeRoy-Fraizer).
Wolfe adds that “Jacobs sends the message to northern blacks that they must prepare to fight for their rights as human beings who are equal to their white neighbors”(Wolfe). Many slaves were not literate. They were not allowed to learn, read, write, or even possess the ability to think independently. Being literate would enable the slaves to communicate through written and verbal form, allowing them to find the path to freedom. If Linda did not learn how to read, or write, she would have a difficult time planning out how to escape from Dr. Flint.
While Linda was with the mistress, “she taught [her] how to read and and spell; and for that privilege, which so rarely falls to the lot of a slave, I bless her memory” (Jacobs 913). Another example of freedom restriction is the event when Linda’s mistress dies and the will states that she will be under the property the mistress’s relative rather than freeing her in spite of her good will According to the Fugitive Slave Act, slaves cannot be emancipated. Despite the kindness that the mistress portrays towards Linda, she still cannot see her as her own neighbor, or as an equal person.
Therefore, instead of obtaining freedom that she wishes for, Linda ends up becoming a slave to another person. Female slaves could not raise their own family, or marry a free person in fear that their children will end up being a slave, just like their parents. “She clasped a gold chain around my baby’s neck. I thanked her for this kindness; but I did not like the emblem” “How earnestly I prayed that she might never feel the weight of slavery’s chain” (Jacobs 923). The gold chain represents how the child will most likely become a slave.
Linda does not want her own child to end up becoming stuck in the slave system. She would rather let her child grow up as a free person instead of dealing with the same matter Linda goes through. As for the latter, the couple might suffer from threats and harassments from the slave owners, similar to the scene where Linda and her lover separate due to Dr. Flint’s constant warnings. Dr. Flint says,“If I ever know of your speaking to him, I will cowhide you both; and if I catch lurking about my premises, I will shoot him as soon as I would a dog” (Jacobs 915).
This demonstrates how female slaves never had the right to be with loved ones, resulting in despair. Moreover, along with literacy and ruling issues, having a family under slavery has setbacks, especially for mothers. Motherhood and family support are a source of hope in the narrative. However, many slaves often become separated from their own families. This leads to the lost of emotional support that is needed for human development. Family members begin to lose a sense of connection due to the separation, which results in not having the will to fight for their liberation.
For example, while Linda overhears that Mr. Dodge “said his wife had never signed her right to [Linda’s] right to [her children], and that he could not get [her], he would take them”(Jacobs 928) According to Li, maternal instincts have an innate attachment, meaning that mothers are attached to their own children to the point that they would do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Through her maternal instincts, Linda overcomes the authority of the slave owner to free her children.
In conclusion, corruption, unjust slave laws, and the lack of family support from slavery conflicted with the rights of female slaves. The corrupted minds of slave owners cause the creation of unjust slave laws. Through the slave laws, slaves, especially females were restricted from gaining their own freedom. They could not exercise their own rights. With the separation of families in slavery, many slaves felt hopeless that they could not be with their families. Luckily, Jacobs overcomes the obstacles of slavery, thus becoming a free person and an abolitionist.