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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 | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapter 11 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, how does Linda Brent's perception of one's life circumstances color her feelings toward her baby?

Linda Brent uses the symbol of light and dark to represent her emotional state. She says, "My heart had grown gray in misery." She considers one's life is affected by one's circumstances: "Lives that flash in sunshine, and lives that are born in tears, receive their hue from circumstances." When her baby is born she finds "a solace in his smiles," yet she can never forget that he is a slave. When he nearly dies she prays for his life, but his recovery is bittersweet. "Alas, what mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life!" she says. The circumstance of giving birth to an enslaved child makes the sweetness of motherhood nearly intolerable.

In Chapter 10 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, how does the author create an angry tone?

Linda Brent's tone is angry as she tells of forfeiting her lover due to Dr. Flint's jealousy. Linda establishes her fury with the repetition of "I had rather ..." to show the disgust she feels towards her master's perversion. She says, "I had rather toil on the plantation from dawn till dark; I had rather live and die in jail, than drag on, from day to day, through such a living death." The use of single-syllable words and alliteration of d- and t- sounds help readers to understand her explosive anger which sends her running straight into a new lover's arms—the lowest blow she can inflict on her antagonist.

What issues does Linda Brent advocate for in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl?

Linda Brent advocates for the issues of literacy, gender equality, motherhood, and ultimately the abolition of slavery. Literacy: Linda was taught to read and write early. Her call to action promotes literacy and the missionaries who are willing to do the work. Gender equality: A pioneer in exposing the female experience in slavery, Linda writes, "Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women." Motherhood: While looking at her children for what she knows could be the last time, Linda contemplates roles in parenting: Mr. Sands "wanted to be kind to them, but they were not all to him, as they were to my womanly heart." Abolition of slavery: The entire book is a testament to the cruelty of slavery and the way it debases both the slave and the slaveholder.

As described in Chapter 30 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, what are Linda Brent's emotions upon approaching Philadelphia, and how does the author convey them?

On her voyage Linda Brent's use of exclamation points is reminiscent of a Walt Whitman poem—and the intense expressions seem warranted: "O, the beautiful sunshine! the exhilarating breeze!" Brent spends so much time on the deck, soaking up sun and the "balmy air of spring," that her face chaps and blisters from exposure. As they near Philadelphia, Fanny and Linda watch the sun rise. Linda writes, "soon the waves began to sparkle, and everything caught the beautiful glow." This reunion with the sun evokes the frequently used symbol of light and dark: sunshine represents the hope that rests in her arrival.

As described in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, how does Nancy affect her family?

Nancy is an example of strength—mental, spiritual, and physical. She loses eight babies because of the physical turmoil Mrs. Flint subjects her to by forcing her to sleep on the floor by her door. Yet she mourns her eighth dead infant with "patient sorrow," displaying her faith in the opportunity to meet her babies in heaven. Linda says the "whole family relied upon [Nancy's] judgment, and were guided by her advice." In particular, when everyone else speaks against Linda Brent's flight, Nancy encourages her. During their trapdoor talks, Nancy repeats, "I could die happy if I could only see you and the children free."

In Chapter 21 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, what does Linda Brent first see from the garret, and why is her reaction significant?

In this scene readers see the powerful effect of hope on Linda Brent's thoughts and actions. She bores a hole in her garret hideaway for access to sunlight, fresh air, and glimpses of her children at night. In the morning the first person she sees outside is Dr. Flint. She hopes seeing this man, who often tries to bribe Ellen and Benny for information about her, is not a bad omen. Linda has several encounters with superstition throughout the book, and they always freeze her in the moment. At the sight of Dr. Flint, she instinctively shudders. Yet in this hard-earned connection to the world, not even her antagonist can ruin the moment altogether.

As described in Chapter 23 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, how does the town respond to Aunt Martha's serious illness?

When the well-loved and respected Aunt Martha falls ill, her admirers display the female strength and support she so consistently models for her community. Customers rush to her bedside, bringing gifts and offers of help. They present her with "little comforts." When Nancy asks for a night off to care for her sick mother, Mrs. Flint refuses. Yet wanting to maintain appearances, Mrs. Flint visits "in magnificent condescension." Even Mrs. Flint is startled by Aunt Martha's poor state and is goaded into action. She scolds Phillip for not contacting Dr. Flint and then calls her husband on the spot, a testament to Aunt Martha's effect on people around her: even bad people are inspired to good acts where Martha is concerned.

According to Chapter 6 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, why is Mrs. Flint jealous of slaves, and how does she act on that jealousy?

Mrs. Flint is Dr. Flint's second wife and is younger than he is. Although she is what might be called a "trophy wife" today, her position is made insecure by something everyone in the household knows about: Dr. Flint has fathered 11 slaves. Consequently Mrs. Flint treats all youthful and innocent female slaves with paranoia and cruelty. After Mrs. Flint destroys the doctor's plans for Linda Brent by making her sleep in the room adjoining hers, Linda wakes in the middle of the night to find Mrs. Flint, pretending to be Dr. Flint, whispering in her ear and trying to get her to reveal information. Unable to uncover any information by remaining close to Brent, Mrs. Flint starts confronting her husband in front of Linda. The woman's actions are an example of the way in which the institution of slavery corrupts slave owners.

How does the new proximity to Mrs. Flint complicate Linda Brent's feelings toward her, as described in Chapter 6 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl?

After Mrs. Flint discovers her husband's intentions toward Linda, she vows to protect her, which makes Linda Brent wonder if her mistress likes her. Because Mrs. Flint intervenes in Dr. Flint's operation to cage to her, Linda is grateful. Because Mrs. Flint is a woman whose flaring "temper kindle[s] from small sparks," Linda, who struggles with trust, questions whether she can believe her. Yet she doesn't fault Mrs. Flint's jealousy, knowing that being a slaveholder's wife is not easy on the heart. However, Linda is still exposed to terror when she wakes in the middle of the night to find Mrs. Flint eyeing her.

As depicted in Chapter 2 of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, how does the Flints' provision of clothing and food to their slaves reveal the Flints' characters?

Each Christmas the Flints give Linda Brent a linsey-woolsey dress. She loathes it and calls it "one of the badges of slavery." The Flints are as selfish in feeding their slaves as they are in clothing them. They deny their slaves more than their weekly allotment; sometimes Mrs. Flint spits in the pots to prevent anyone from indulging in scraps. It is Linda's grandmother who assumes financial responsibility for her food and clothing. The Flints are self-serving. They think only of their comforts and personal gain, in contrast to Aunt Martha, a symbol of motherhood and selflessness, who starts a business to save money to purchase her children's freedom.

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