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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 38 : Renewed Invitations to Go South | Summary



Linda returns to New York and, imagining "spectres" (ghosts) rising up on the shores of the United States, hurries on to Boston to see her children. Ellen is succeeding in school, but Benny has been insulted by his fellow apprentices for being black and has abandoned his trade for whaling. Linda cries at the news.

She receives a letter from her former mistress, who has married and is moving to Virginia. Independently of her father, she asks Linda to accompany her. "If you are not willing to come, you may purchase yourself; but I should prefer having you live with me," she writes. Insulted to be thought "stupid enough to be caught by such professions," Linda ignores her request. She knows the Flints have her address but remains in Boston, hoping she can continue to elude them. She refuses to think of buying her own freedom, telling readers that any laws that would say she is anyone's property are "the regulations of robbers, who had no rights that I was bound to respect." She notes that the Fugitive Slave Law, under which she would have been in even greater danger, hadn't been passed at the time.


A somber mood hangs over Linda's return from England. Images of ghosts on the shore punctuate the "tedious" voyage back. Following her positive experience abroad, Linda observes, "It is a sad feeling to be afraid of one's native country." Jacobs here states a truth felt by African Americans well into the 20th century. Expatriates such as Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes all chose to live in France rather than continue to experience the racism and injustice of the United States.

Linda's ability to navigate letters fluently helps her obtain and maintain her freedom. Her cunning shows the power of literacy, which slaveholders strive to withhold from slaves. Corrupt laws—forbidding slaves to read and write—encourage slavery. Fortunately Linda recognizes Emily's note is manipulative.

Linda is infuriated by the injustice of paying for herself. She knows the law protects and defends the Flints; she simply can't see herself as anyone's property. By refusing to submit, Linda continues to fight for justice and lead by example.

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