Harriet Jacobs’s Authobiographical Novel Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl: Letting the Voices of African American Slaves Be Heard

May 15, 2022 by Essay Writer

Slavery in America started in 1619. This for certainty was the start of one of the struggles that African Americans faced at that time. People, mostly the Northerners, saw African Americans as a property that can be bought, sold, and used in any imaginable way. Enslaved individuals were made up of men, worked mostly in plantations and constructions. People believed that men were the only one who was truly beaten up by their masters and mistresses every single day, but are people educated enough to know how hard it was for the African American female slaves? Black women in that time were mostly stereotyped. They were seen as sexual objects and being unrestricted. Slave owners have the power to completely destroy the lives of the slave women and their family with such ease.

Harriet Jacobs describes in detail how she goes through being a slave and presents the female perspective of being a slave in the novel Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs is not afraid to show and speak up about the struggles of every African American slaves during her time. She does not care about any risk she is taking, because she could have kept living in the silence. Harriet Jacobs tries to educate her readers and she is trying to arouse the women of the North to open their senses in realizing the condition of women at the South. Through her use of rhetorical strategies, Jacobs attempts to influence her audience and let them see how the horrors of slavery have affected her in a significant way.

In Harriet Jacobs’ narrative, she precisely mentioned that the names of actual people were fictionalized in order to hide their true identities. There were not many slave women who had the courage to write their own narratives. Jacobs openly expressed the different examples of tortures which the slaves endured. Men had suffered different kind of tortures than slave women. They underwent harsh harassment mostly sexual by their masters and sometimes their children were involved too. Jacob wrote ‘Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own. (Jacobs) This is one of the strategies she used in order to draw shock to the readers and summon sympathy or sentiment by the portrayal of brutality and horrors of slavery.Jacobs throughout her life had this constant terror of being away with her children. Everyone at that time probably had encountered the same feeling as she felt. People who had slaves at that time treated adults and children as their own property. This was shown through Dr. Flint’s expression; ‘These brats will bring me a handsome sum of money one of these days.’ (Jacobs). This was one of the strategies she used in order for her audience to feel the stress she dealt with.

The idea of being treated as a property that time was shared throughout so she could never be sure if Dr.Flint would keep her children. Even though, she did not experience the whippings and work that demands physical effort for the span of her slave year she witnessed many dreadful practices the slaves struggled. Her memories were still fresh on the cruelest ones. It was stated in the narrative and one of the slaves mentioned; ‘His piteous groans and his ‘O, pray don’t, massa,’ rang in my ear for months afterwards.’ (Jacobs) She also used very gory details when she was portraying a picture on our mind about what slaves felt at that time ‘… till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash.’ (Jacobs).

Her use of these examples influenced the readers to convey emotions and gives us a drive in order to fight what is right. She craved that her narratives will draw spark on the passion of everyone who read this novel. Jacobs attempts to light a fire under those who did not care about what the ‘two millions of women at the South, still in bondage, suffering what [she] suffered..’ Proposed to spread to the North, the purpose is to torches each individual’s spirit. A person would call a light from the freedom that everyone pleads and soon will escape from the darkness of slavery.


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