Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Slave owners often tell lies to prevent slaves from wanting to run away. One man tells Linda that he’s seen her runaway friend literally dying of starvation in New York and begging to return to slavery; later, Linda meets the same friend and finds that she has never “thought of such a thing.” However, many slaves believe stories like this, having never known any life other than the one they live currently.
This depiction of the North is obviously untrue, and shows how slaveholders both enforce and exploit the ignorance of their slaves. This is similar to the way in which they twist Christian principles so that they appear to support slavery.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Linda says it’s imperative to teach slaves about the importance of liberty and dignity—values their masters strive to conceal—but impossible to do so when the Free States allow fugitives to be thrown back into slavery, making their freedom completely insecure.
Just as it’s impossible for Linda to fulfill sexual standards without any social standing or protection, it’s hard for any slave to act solely by moral principles within a system that penalizes them for doing so.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda continues that under the conditions of slavery, it’s nearly impossible for people to develop the moral compass that they could as free men. For example, some men “have been so brutalized by the lash that they will sneak out of the way to give their masters free access to their wives and daughters,” but this is because of their environment, not their innate nature. Linda challenges the reader, asking “what would you be” if raised in similar circumstances.
This is a very powerful passage. Linda often encourages her reader to identify with slaves by calling up positive links, like maternal love. Here, she compels the reader to acknowledge that their own moral development is predicated on freedom and privilege, and acknowledge that they too would succumb to the pressures of oppression.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Southerners often say terrible things about Yankees, even though Northerners often cooperate with them by hunting down and returning fugitive slaves. Northerners are not accepted into the South unless they vocally profess support for slavery, and even then they aren’t respected. As if to compensate for this, Northern transplants often become the worst masters.
Here Linda presents Southerners not only as perpetuating slavery in their own states but trying to force it on others. This plays on contemporary anxieties about new states in the American West, in which abolitionists and pro-slavery advocates were fighting for dominance.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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Such people justify their actions by saying that God intended black people for slavery, but this contravenes the Biblical principle that all people are “of one blood.”
Quoting directly from the Bible, Linda firmly rebuts the possibility that it can be used to justify slavery.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Many slaves have some idea that people in the North are against slavery and even working to end it, but their knowledge is very confused. One woman tells Linda a rumor that the “Queen of ‘Merica” is arguing with the president for the freedom of the slaves.
Linda intends this woman’s beliefs to serve not as a personal flaw but as an example of the enforced ignorance in which most slaves live.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon