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 3 : The Slaves' New Year's Day | Summary



Linda Brent describes hiring day, January 1, in the South. The area floods with slaves awaiting their "doom." They know the slaveholders' reputations, kind or cruel, but they cannot shape their own destinies. If a slave refuses to go with the new master, he is whipped and jailed. The following year the master keeps or sells the slaves.

For much of the chapter Linda provides information about hiring day, and then she addresses Northern women directly: "O, you happy free women, contrast your New Year's day with that of the poor bond-woman!" She then tells the story of an enslaved mother of seven who arrives at an auction block, knowing her children are also available for purchase. A slave trader purchases the seven children; a local man buys the mother.


At the time she is writing her autobiography, Harriet Jacobs has lived in the North for some time and has witnessed many New Year's Day celebrations there. Northern women's holidays are filled with "friendly wishes" and gifts. To demonstrate how mothers of slaves suffer, she compares the New Year's Day of a Northern woman to that of a slave, using an incident she herself witnessed.

Over and over in the narrative she will stress the twin evils of the enslaved woman: being deprived of the bonds of motherhood and being sexually abused. She chooses Northern women as the target audience for her appeal, intuiting that they will sympathize so fully they will step up their abolitionist actions.

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