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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 | Quotes


I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away.

Linda Brent, Chapter 1

The opening sentence sets the tone for the book by Linda Brent's admitting her experience isn't the worst, counting her blessings, and speaking up for the voiceless. It also provides a framework for describing the efforts of her parents and her grandmother in shielding her from the evils of slavery.


These God-breathing machines are no more, in the sight of their masters, than the cotton they plant, or the horses they tend.

Linda Brent, Chapter 1

After her mistress's death, hoping to be freed, Linda Brent instead discovers that she is chattel, no more valued than an animal, and that this is the condition of other slaves too. She recognizes, as her masters do not, the humanity of the slaves.


Who knows the ways of God ... Perhaps they have been kindly taken from the evil days to come.

Aunt Martha, Chapter 2

When Linda Brent mourns her mother, mistress, father, and friend, Martha offers this strained comfort, foreshadowing what Linda Brent will suffer at the hands of the Flints.


When a man is hunted like a wild beast he forgets there is a God, a heaven. He forgets every thing in his struggle to get beyond the reach of the bloodhounds.

Benjamin, Chapter 4

In jail and longing to escape, Benjamin deflects Martha's question about whether he believes in God. His predicament does not leave him room for faith: he would rather stay in jail than return to life as a slave and can think of nothing but escape.


I forgot that in the land of my birth the shadows are too dense for light to penetrate.

Linda Brent, Chapter 7

Linda Brent seeks solace in love, but her jealous master forbids her happiness. The "land of [her] birth," the antebellum South, is a place where forces are ranged against her. She characteristically uses the symbol of light and dark to contrast the fate of an enslaved versus a white person.


I wanted no chain to be fastened on my daughter, not even if its links were of gold.

Linda Brent, Chapter 14

Linda's baby is given a baptismal gift, a necklace. Linda, however, reacts negatively to the symbol of the chain; she is determined to see her children freed.


My master had power and law on his side; I had a determined will. There is might in each.

Linda Brent, Chapter 15

In evading her sexually aggressive master, Linda refuses to admit defeat. Her resistance to law and power is a signal that others, too, can be freed.


The poor old back was fitted to its burden. It bent under it, but did not break.

Linda Brent, Chapter 28

Martha loses another child. Linda reflects that while Martha's losses have shaped her, they have also tempered and strengthened her.


Whatever slavery might do to me, it could not shackle my children.

Linda Brent, Chapter 19

Mr. Sands buys Linda's (and his) children, freeing them. Linda is in the garret, her future uncertain, but she rejoices that her children are free.


I have heard her say she would go to the ends of the earth, rather than pay any man or woman for her freedom, because she thinks she has a right to it.

Friend from home, Chapter 41

The friend from home is talking about Linda, who defines herself as the subject of human rights rather than the object of pity or charity. Linda is furious at the idea that her freedom, which should be a God-given right, must instead be purchased.

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