Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The search lasts longer than Linda expects, and she begins to think she’ll never be able to leave the town. Once she hears patrols so close to her friend’s house that she runs into the swamp, staying there for hours. That night a reptile bites her and the wound becomes infected, preventing her from running if it becomes necessary.
Throughout the lengthy process of her escape, Linda experiences a lot of physical suffering – however, she rarely dwells on it, preferring to discuss the psychological and emotional consequences of life as a fugitive slave.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Dr. Flint has threatened Linda’s family and urged her to return to him, but she is determined not to. At this point, Grandmother turns to a white woman she has known for a long time, and who has been visiting her in this time of crisis. The woman says that she will hide Linda in her house until there’s a possibility of sending her north, but that her name must never be mentioned, as it would ruin her husband’s social position.
Like Miss Fanny, this is an example of a white woman intervening against the system of slavery – at considerable risk to herself. It’s interesting that these situations usually arise through Grandmother’s friendships, which she can cultivate because she is free. Empathetic and respectful relationships between black and white women can only arise under conditions of freedom.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Grandmother gets word to Linda, telling her to be ready. On the specified night her friend Betty, the white woman’s cook, comes to collect her. In the house, she’s given a small attic room; only Betty and the mistress will know about her presence, and they will care for her every day. Linda praises them both for their “Christian womanhood.”
In slaveholders’ society, Christianity is thought to promote slavery; Linda says that true Christians oppose it. Likewise, women are thought to be weak and helpless; Linda says that womanhood is expressed through brave deeds like this one.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Linda hopes that Dr. Flint will sell her children soon, but he seems to want revenge more than money. He throws William, Aunt Nancy, Benny, and Ellen into the city jail and tells Grandmother that she will never see them again until Linda comes back. Thinking of her children in jail, Linda wants to go to them, but she knows she can do nothing for her family as a slave. She even receives a note from William urging her to stay strong and keep hiding. Betty often visits them, bringing food and telling Linda how eager they are to see their mother.
Even though Dr. Flint is trying to tear apart Linda’s family, everyone remains stalwart and selfless towards each other. William reassures his sister to escape even though doing so won’t help him, and Linda exposes herself to capture and violent punishment in the hope that her children will escape Dr. Flint’s influence forever.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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At some point Ellen gets measles and is taken to Dr. Flint’s house to recover, but she screams and cries so much while she’s there that Mrs. Flint soon sends her back to jail. Linda is proud of her daughter for her instinctual loathing of the Flint household, but she also hears that Mrs. Flint is threatening to sell her to a sugar plantation as soon as she’s found.
Ellen’s instinctual loathing of the Flint house underscores Linda’s many suggestions that it is an inherently unwholesome and corrupted place – exactly the opposite of what a home should be.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
To frighten Linda, Dr. Flint falsely tells Grandmother that he knows where she is and will soon capture her. Worried, Betty has Linda hide in a trap door under the kitchen for the entire day, until his threat proves to be a false alarm. Another day, Linda is even more frightened to hear Dr. Flint’s voice in the house while she’s sitting in the attic. She imagines that he’s searching the house and is terrified when the door to her room opens; but it’s only the white woman, who tells her that Dr. Flint has just come to borrow money from the family in order to go to New York and search for her. They both laugh at the thought of this expensive and fruitless search.
While Dr. Flint marshals money and legal authority to search for Linda, she relies on her family and friends to fight against him. The fact that the legal system is aligned against the logical and compelling concerns of families is another indication that it is deeply flawed and in need of serious change.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon