Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Study Guide

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Chapter 13 : The Church and Slavery | Summary

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Summary

With the motive of ensuring slaves don't murder their masters, slaveholders offer slaves a Sunday service after destroying their church. An Episcopal clergyman, Mr. Pike, hosts. The words the man delivers support slaveholders and the system of slavery. Soon the clergyman accepts another appointment.

Slaves adore the second clergyman, who addresses them as "human beings." People who normally don't attend church come solely to hear him preach. Slaveholders catch on and complain that he gives better sermons to the slaves.

The second clergyman's wife frees her slaves, another reason the African American community loves her and her husband. But she falls ill and dies quickly. Soon after the second clergyman leaves town.

Linda recounts her experience in teaching an older black man, Uncle Fred, how to read so he can read the Bible. He learns quickly, and Linda reflects that the Bible is sent to "heathen abroad" but slaves are forbidden to read it. She entreats missionaries to "talk to American slaveholders as you talk to savages in Africa."

Analysis

Thundering that "God sees you," the immoral Mr. Pike preaches about what he considers to be sin, which turns out to be conveniently aligned with what slaveholders think is wrong, such as slaves stealing from masters. His sermons are repetitive because each one has the same dogmatic message. Mr. Pike upholds slavery, so the slaveholders view him as "a sort of god."

Linda herself uses repetition in direct address to her readers as she asks missionaries to target the evil slaveholders. With the repetition of "tell them," Linda Brent urges "Tell them it is sinful to sell their own children, and atrocious to violate their own daughters." By seeking justice Linda Brent's repetition subverts the immoral clergyman's sermon which upholds racism.

Because the system of slavery is supported in the South by law and the church, Brent seeks the help of Northerners in her mission to improve the lot of slaves and work toward abolition. Unlike slaves, the Northerners have power, so the choice to appeal to them is the obvious, and the only, solution for the writer.

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