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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 5 : The Trials of Girlhood | Summary



When Linda turns 15, "a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl," Linda's master fills her mind with "impure" images. He whispers "foul words in her ear," which she treats with "indifference" and "contempt." She wants to confide in her grandmother, but Dr. Flint threatens to kill her if she reports him.

Linda meditates on the widespread sexual abuse of slave women, who are unprotected by law from violence. Mistresses react to slave women who are abused by their masters with "jealousy and rage." Even a 12-year-old, Linda says, understands "why ... her mistress hates such and such a one among the slaves." Beauty is a curse to a female slave, who must drink "the cup of sin, and shame, and misery." She calls on the free men and women of the North to continue in their pursuit of abolition, "the cause of humanity."


Faced with the unwelcome attention of Dr. Flint and the threat of rape, Linda bemoans gaining knowledge of the extent to which slave girls are victimized by their masters. Addressing her readers Linda uses the repetition of "could you" to ask readers themselves to feel the pain a mother feels when her child is enslaved. She points out if Northern women switched roles with slaves they would find slavery "damnable."

Linda Brent switches between her personal experience and the experience of the average slave girl, whom Linda Brent refers to as "she." Switching between these perspectives allows her to represent a range of experiences, as she acknowledges other slaves have it worse than she does. The repetition of "she will" statements holds tremendous power. They reproduce a sense of the anxiety suffered daily, the constant fear of rape, while the future tense emphasizes that the events cannot be avoided: "Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master's footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child." By universalizing the female experience of slavery, Linda Brent takes the spotlight off herself while showing readers how common this evil treatment is.

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