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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 21 : The Loophole of Retreat | Summary



Linda is ushered to her new hiding place: a dark, cramped garret atop a shed in Aunt Martha's house. She can sleep in it on one side but can't turn over without hitting the roof. Rats run over her bed, but she is too tired to care.

In the morning the sound of her children's voices comfort her. She longs to see them. At night her family chats with her and passes her food through the trap door; she reflects that her life in hiding is better than one in slavery. With the repetition of the phrase "I was never" Brent displays cruelties of slavery that she herself has not suffered, though other slaves clearly have. She says "I was never lacerated with the whip from head to foot; ... I was never branded with hot iron, or torn by bloodhounds."

One day she knocks her head on a gimlet, a small tool used to bore holes. In the darkness she gropes around to find the street side of the garret, where she will be able to see her children outside, and she sticks the gimlet in the wall. At night she bores a one-inch hole to look through and get some air.

Observing her children and breathing fresh air improve Linda's spirits. Nancy tells her the doctor believes she has escaped to the free states. In the little light that the hole gives she reads and sews. During winter, despite huddling under covers all day, she suffers frostbite.


Linda's time in the garret, the best place for concealment, begins in "total" darkness. This detail shows the circumstances Brent is willing to bear for the sake of her children's, and her own, freedom. When she discovers the gimlet, she drills a hole for light and air, displaying her determination and her active role in her own survival.

Whether it is an uninformed, misinformed, or strategic belief, there are those who think a slave's life is easy, and Linda Brent addresses them. First she admits her life isn't as bad as other slaves' fates. Then she refutes this lie about the "easy" lot of slaves, a lie that upholds the system of slavery. Honestly and humbly, she honors slaves who have it worse than she by giving them a voice.

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