Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
To free Linda from Dr. Flint’s continued harassment, her family and friends try to buy her again, commissioning a trader to negotiate with her master. However, Dr. Flint assumes the trader is working for Mr. Sands and refuses to sell her. He sneers at Linda, deriding her for her desire to live with another man, and tells her that “no human being…can take you out of your slavery.”
Dr. Flint’s taunt here shows that he considers slavery immune to human intervention, as if it’s some sort of natural or divinely ordained institution. In fact, he will soon be proved wrong – a series of brave human beings do help liberate Linda from slavery.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
When Linda responds sharply, Benny runs up and throws his arms around his mother, as if to protect her. Dr. Flint throws him across the room and Linda worries he has killed the child, but Dr. Flint grabs her and prevents her from running to him. Hearing her scream, someone else runs into the room and Dr. Flint releases her; she rushes to Benny and checks that he’s still breathing.
This is the first depiction of Dr. Flint’s interaction with the children, and it demonstrates not only appalling brutality towards a young boy but an absolute disregard for Linda’s right to protect her children. Just as women can’t fulfill sexual standards under slavery, they can’t properly protect their children.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
One night, a slave whom Dr. Flint has sold to a trader that day is spending the night with Linda’s family before leaving. Dr. Flint arrives at the house and orders her away, but she’s no longer his slave and she ignores him, acting “the conqueror” for once. In retaliation, Dr. Flint begins hitting Linda until Grandmother, hearing the struggle, rushes in and scolds him to go back to his house and “take care of your wife and children.”
Grandmother makes a link between Dr. Flint’s thuggish actions in her house and the state of affairs in his own – which, given his continuing obsession with Linda, is probably not good. He’s not only preventing Linda from taking care of her children but neglecting his own as well.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Dr. Flint jeers at Grandmother, accusing her of “sanctioning” Linda’s extramarital relationship. She retorts that he should start praying so he can “wash the dirt off [his] soul” before he dies. Linda feels guilty for the stress and disruption that her presence has caused in Grandmother’s life. She wonders if the old woman is impatient or anxious for her to leave, but she’s always sympathetic and never displays such feelings if she has them.
Dr. Flint continually tries to usurp the moral high ground, which is ironic given that he’s the primary agent of moral corruption in Linda’s life. Grandmother’s tranquil self-confidence here is remarkable – although she often feels ashamed of herself now, Linda will eventually assume her calm faith as well.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
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Dr. Flint leaves her alone during the winter but resumes his visits in the spring, becoming enraged and jealous any time she’s not home when he arrives. He tries to bribe Linda, telling her that her children can be “free” and her life easy if she agrees to live in a cottage he will build her. He’s offering her “a home and freedom,” and he says she should abandon her obstinate ways and surrender to him.
The “freedom” that Dr. Flint presents is just material advantage, and has nothing to do with self-determination. His ability to use this word to describe what he’s offering shows his total inability to conceive of Linda as a person with agency. The morally iniquitous “home” he presents contrasts with Grandmother’s house, in which Linda is able to preserve her morals and dignity.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda immediately rejects the offer. Calmly, Dr. Flint says that if she doesn’t obey him, he will send her and the children to work on the plantation. He gives her a week to think about it. Linda is unsure what to do—she knows Dr. Flint will never actually free her children, but if she goes to the plantation she will be isolated from her family and even more powerless than before.
Dr. Flint presents his cottage as a reward and the plantation as a punishment, but for Linda they are much the same – in either case, she would be completely under her master’s power and isolated from the family that protects her. These are two houses that completely lack the tranquility and moral purity that Linda associates with a real home.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Moreover, Linda fears that she will experience abuse from Nicholas Flint, who runs the plantation; knowing his son’s character, Dr. Flint has always kept her out of his way before. She decides that she must “save my children” or “perish in the attempt.” In the meantime, she tells Dr. Flint that she is willing to go to the plantation. Enraged, he tells her that Benny will be sent to the fields and Ellen will be sold as soon as possible.
As Linda starts to think about escape, she couches her plans in terms of saving her children. It’s possible that she doesn’t want to appear too brash and unfeminine to her readers, but it also shows that becoming a mother confers new courage on her. She thus presents a very active and independent version of motherhood, progressive for her time.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Trying to intercede, Grandmother visits Dr. Flint, reminding him how well she has served his family, even nursing Mrs. Flint along with her own children. She again offers to buy Linda, but Dr. Flint rebuffs her, telling her that Linda must go to the plantation “for [her] own good.” Linda knows that she must now fight alone, bolstered by her “woman’s pride” and “mother’s love.”
Being a woman – and now a mother – has made Linda particularly susceptible to Dr. Flint’s abuse. However, she’s starting to treat these traits not as weaknesses but as strengths. While Linda portrays the particular vulnerabilities of enslaved women, she never presents them as weak.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon