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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 31 : Incidents in Philadelphia | Summary



Upon Linda's arrival the captain introduces her to Rev. Jeremiah Durham, a black minister who invites Linda home with him and finds a place for Fanny until they can obtain a safe escort to New York. He questions Linda closely about the fact that she has a daughter but not, seemingly, a husband, and cautions her not to speak about her situation: "It might give some heartless people a pretext for treating you with contempt." Linda squirms and says "God alone knows how I have suffered."

In love with the city, Linda learns new things about markets and art. The description of an incident in Linda's new surroundings creates suspense. When fire alarms awaken her she is shocked and disoriented. As though she were still at her former home, she rushes to help fill the engine at the river, the way slaves are expected to. The Durham's daughter informs her they "never get up" for fires. In the morning the family laughs about Linda's reaction around the breakfast table.

After five days someone offers to accompany them to New York. Linda is disgusted to find that she and Fanny can't ride in the first-class cars, where "colored people" are not allowed. She says "This was the first chill to my enthusiasm about the Free States ... It made me sad to find how the north aped the customs of slavery."


Sensitive about the conflict between her religious upbringing and her life as a woman in slavery, Linda answers Mr. Durham's questions about her unmarried state willingly and truthfully. The shame she feels and his caution to her about sharing her story show the contrast between her life as an enslaved person and her current situation. In the North the justification for her affair with Mr. Sands is less comprehensible. Only those familiar with Dr. Flint's relentless persecution of her—who now include the readers of her narrative—could understand the logic that drove Linda to take a white lover.

Linda's reaction to the fire alarm also shows the contrast between her old life and the new one. But some things never change. She is saddened to find that racism persists in the North. Modern readers bring to Linda's observation the understanding that legal segregation would persist well into the 20th century.

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