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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 32 : The Meeting of Mother and Daughter | Summary



Fanny and Linda arrive in New York, where the crowd of coachmen vying for their business shocks them. An Irishman tries to cheat them, but they find an honest cabby and drive to a boardinghouse on Sullivan Street (in lower Manhattan) that has been recommended to Linda. Fanny goes to stay at a home provided by the Anti-Slavery Society.

When Linda arranges to meet Ellen, now two years older, she doesn't recognize her at first and then suspects she is unhappy and neglected. The next morning she sends a note to Mrs. Hobbs, with whom Ellen lives. Although Linda dislikes lying, she says she has recently arrived from Canada so that Mrs. Hobbs will not know she is a runaway. "So far as my ways have been crooked, I charge them all upon slavery," she says.

The woman invites her to her home in Brooklyn, and Linda is angry to find that Ellen can hardly read. Furthermore Mrs. Hobbs tells Linda that Mr. Sands has given Ellen to her eldest daughter. Linda concludes that Mr. Sands has not kept his promise to free the children. Uneasy, Linda writes Dr. Flint and her legal mistress, asking for the "lowest" price for her sale. She searches for her brother William in Boston, only to discover he's on a whaling voyage. When she returns to New York, Dr. Flint's reply awaits, urging her to return South if she wants to secure her freedom.


Situational irony, a discrepancy between expectations and what actually happens, arises when Linda first sees Ellen. Mr. Sands has promised a positive upbringing for their daughter; however, as Linda says, "eyes less observing than a mother's" could detect evidence of neglect in Ellen's appearance. When she speaks to her daughter she learns that Ellen's education has also been neglected. Mrs. Hobbs describes a future far different from the one Linda has imagined for Ellen.

For Linda simply achieving her dream of reaching the North is not enough. She must continue to resist the chains of slavery in her new home. As always the desire to do what is best for her children fills her with purpose as she returns to New York with the intent of finding employment near Ellen.

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