Essential themes from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Jacobs used the pseudonym, Linda Brent… Harriet Jacobs was born a slaver in 1813 in North Carolina. Her earliest memories were of a relatively happy family life, “fondly shielded… never dreamed that I was a piece of meat. ” This was largely due to her father’s reputation as (though a slave) a man of intellect and skill, and talents and optimism of her warm, nurturing grandmother. At six years old, she grieved her mother’s death. Jacobs’s mistress,
Margaret Horniblow, took her in and cared for her, teaching her to read, write, and sew (a promise from this woman to Jacob’s dying mother). When Horniblow died, she willed (as property) twelve-year-old Jacobs to her niece, and Jacobs’s life took a dramatic turn for the worse. She looked for hope in the fact that she was “growing older and stronger”, but the new mistress’s father, Dr. Flint, subjected Jacobs to constant, aggressive sexual harassment. This is after betraying Harriet’s grandmother, who’d been promised reedom upon her mistress’ death. Note the outrage at Marthy’s sale on 285, and her eventual release by a kind, elderly buyer!! ) As for Harriet, Flint felt her father had spoiled his children, by instilling within them the dignity befitting any human being. His was a dehumanizing control… At sixteen, afraid that Flint would eventually rape her, Jacobs began a relationship with a white neighbor, Sands, and with him she had two children while still in her teens. Instead of discouraging Flint, Jacobs’s affair only enraged him.
In 1835, he sent her away toa life as a laborer on a plantation he owned, threatening to work her young children as field hands. Jacobs flees to hide in her grandmother’s attic, so restricted that she cannot sit or stand (a symbol of the forces that keep her from being free). The hideout (though actual) represents the space of freedom she creates for herself in her own mind. “l slept as much sleep as the wretched may’ (298)- her mind and body restless and weary at the same time… exhausted, but never rested.
Like slavery (and sexual buse), the attic confines Linda’s body in terrible ways. She suffers physically and psychologically, losing her ability to speak and walk and becoming despairing and depressed. Her time in the attic almost kills her, as Dr. Flint had threatened, under the laws of slavery, to do so himself. Things to note Harriet overhearing locals speak of her disappearance- they acknowledge the awtulness ot ner master, but will NOT acknowledge ner humanness! Sands not helping her a promised, BUT providing relocation for their offspring. What does this ay of a woman’s worth toa man? Had she still had beauty and vitality, would he be as loving as when he’d made earlier promises? Had her hiding rid her of that leverage? How the unrelenting rules and structure of the Flint home (to which she spent years enslaved within) gifted her with the knowledge of comings and goings, so as to better plan her escape to the North. The suspense-laden experience of when/ how she would flee to the North.