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 20 : New Perils | Summary



Vexed, Dr. Flint announces revenge. He arrests Linda's uncle Phillip for aiding Linda's escape. Phillip is released, but the family is watched closely, making it impossible for Linda to leave. One morning Linda hears someone trying keys in the door of her hiding place. When Linda informs Betty, she and the kind benefactress, along with Phillip, conduct a plan. Betty gives Linda a bundle, including a sailor's uniform, and tells her to walk "rickety."

Peter, a young black friend, waits at the gate. He has a dagger and says he'll protect her. Linda blackens her face with charcoal, wears her sailor's disguise, and walks through the streets. Peter tells her to enjoy this walk because she "may not have another very soon." At the wharf Nancy's husband waits with a boat. He rows Linda out to a ship to hide overnight; they then hide in Snaky Swamp during the day while Phillip builds a hiding place. Snaky Swamp, which is infested with mosquitoes and snakes that Phillip and Linda must beat off with sticks, terrifies Linda. Approximately 18 years later she admits the memory of the place still makes her "shudder" while writing of it.


Peter's comment—that Linda "may not have another [walk] very soon"—foreshadows the years of torment Linda will soon spend in hiding in another tiny room.

Snakes not only show what Brent's flight makes her vulnerable to; they also show the intensity of her desperation. She would rather endure a snake-infested swamp and another bite than risk the possibility of being captured and returned to Dr. Flint. In Chapter 34 she will use snakes as a symbol for the fear of capture and will equate snakes and slaveholders.

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