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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Study Guide

Harriet Jacobs

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Course Hero. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 30 May 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed May 30, 2023.


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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Summary

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl follows Linda Brent's life from her birth in slavery in 1813 to her freedom in 1851. The narrative focuses on Linda's escape to freedom, as well as her struggle with the gender and social issues of slavery.

The narrative begins with Linda's "fondly shielded" childhood in a small Southern town. She credits her early happiness to her mother and father and to the experience of living with her first mistress (woman who supervises servants). As Linda says, "Those were happy days—too happy to last." At 11 years old, she is willed to her mistress's niece, Emily. Because Emily is a child, Linda is controlled by Emily's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Flint. Though Linda had "never dreamed [she] was a piece of merchandise," her life with the Flints begins her induction into the cruel world of slavery.

After Linda's father passes away, her grandmother Martha becomes Linda's financial and emotional provider, trying to ease her pains with tiny comforts and good spirits on dark days. When Martha's youngest child, Benjamin, who is like a brother to Linda, is captured after fleeing, he is imprisoned. His rebellious spirit terrifies his mother, but it inspires Linda and her brother William.

When Linda turns 15, Dr. Flint begins relentlessly pursuing her sexually, littering her mind with obscene images. For a little joy and revenge, Linda decides to begin a romantic relationship with Mr. Sands. When Dr. Flint tells her to move to the "lonely cottage" he has built for her, she reveals she is pregnant. Mrs. Flint banishes her from the house, but Dr. Flint preys on her still.

Linda gives birth to Benny; shortly afterward, the slaveholders overturn the town in response to the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia, where more than 50 white people were killed. Dr. Flint becomes increasingly violent toward Linda, and she gives birth to her second child with Mr. Sands, Ellen. Given an ultimatum by Flint, a life at the plantation or a life as his concubine, Linda chooses the plantation.

When she discovers Mr. Flint's plan to bring Benny and Ellen to the plantation, she flees, beginning an intense and complicated journey. Linda dodges her pursuers in a swamp and then hides in the garret of Martha's house. She drills a hole to look at the street for glimpses of her children and for fresh air and sunlight.

After nearly seven years, a friend secures passage on a vessel to Philadelphia. Soon Linda travels to New York, where she meets the Bruces and works various jobs to secure her children's education. With the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, which provided for the capture and return of runaway slaves, and Dr. Flint's frequent trips to search for her, Linda continues to live in turmoil. After Mr. Flint dies, her boss purchases her freedom.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Linda's mother dies.

Rising Action

2 Linda lives with her mother's mistress and becomes literate.

3 Linda's mistress dies.

4 Linda is willed as a slave to Emily Flint.

5 Benjamin is captured and imprisoned.

6 Benjamin escapes to NY while in the hands of a slave trader.

7 Dr. Flint sexually harasses Linda.

8 Linda begins an affair with Mr. Sands and becomes pregnant.

9 Living with Aunt Martha, Linda gives birth to Benny.

10 Linda gives birth to Ellen.


11 Linda flees to save her children from the plantation.

Falling Action

12 Mr. Sands buys Linda's kids; they are sent to Aunt Martha's.

13 Linda hides in Aunt Martha's garret for nearly seven years.

14 Linda escapes to PA and then takes a train to NY.


15 Linda's employer purchases her freedom.

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