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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 9 : Sketches of Neighboring Slaveholders | Summary



Linda Brent offers portraits of several violent slaveholders, ranging from Mrs. Wade, who whips slaves all day and all the night through, to Mr. Litch, who has some slaves who stole meat and wine from him clubbed to death and buried in a box like dogs. Linda says that on Mr. Litch's plantation "Murder was so common ... that he feared to be alone after nightfall. He might have believed in ghosts." This man's brother is equally cruel. He dies saying the words "I am going to hell, bury my money with me."

A cruel mistress dies and tells her husband she does not want the slaves to look at her. To spite the dead woman, a slave steals into the room where the body lies and strikes it twice on the face.

Linda offers the story of a humane mistress who was corrupted by her marriage to a bad master. The man impregnated a slave girl, then sold her and her children. The slave bore two more children to the brother and was sold again. Linda explains that no amount of piety can protect a slave girl from "her owner, or his sons, or the overseer, or perhaps all of them." The toxic family situation created by men who father slave children extends to their daughters, who learn only too soon what is going on. She summarizes the situation by calling it a "cage of obscene birds."


The character sketches demonstrate how brutal slaveholders are—with the exception of the one humane slaveholder. Unfortunately the humane slaveholder marries an evil man, and in the end her humanity is no match for the cruel institution of slavery. Her once-happy slaves and the humane mistress both suffer under her husband's corrupted power, which is protected by marriage laws.

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