Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 41 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Even though Dr. Flint has gone, Linda continues to feel anxious. Meanwhile, it’s clear that Grandmother is approaching the end of her life. Through a friend she writes to Linda that she hopes they will meet in heaven, “where sorrow and parting from my children will be no more.” She exhorts her granddaughter to be a good mother and teach her children Christian values. Linda wishes there was some way to see her grandmother before her death, but she knows it’s impossible.
Christianity remains central to her until until the end of Grandmother’s life, and helps her die with dignity and tranquility. The way she practices her faith contrasts with the use of Christian doctrine by slaveholders to deny slaves dignity and freedom.
Themes
Christianity Theme Icon
Shortly after this, Grandmother writes again to Linda telling her that Dr. Flint is dead, and hoping he has reconciled himself with God. Linda remembers all the ways he’s defrauded and betrayed Grandmother and admires her forgiving response to his death. She herself feels no more kindly towards him now; he is just as “odious” in death as he was in life.
While Linda derives her religious principles from Grandmother, they also inspire her to demand justice rather than helping her endure misfortune. Her faith is oriented around empowerment, rather than resignation.
Themes
Christianity Theme Icon
Linda is still in danger, as she receives word that Mrs. Flint is encouraging her daughter to recapture her former slave, and Mrs. Dodge’s husband is an impoverished merchant who wants to sell her for quick cash. Linda always scans the newspapers for new arrivals in the city’s hotels, and one day she sees that Mr. and Mrs. Dodge have arrived in the city. Linda goes to stay with friends of young Mrs. Bruce; just after she leaves the house, mysterious messengers begin to arrive, asking about her whereabouts.
The new danger in which Linda finds herself emblematizes the drastic effects of the Fugitive Slave Laws. While Dr. Flint would have been legally unable to return her to the South, the Dodges are now empowered to capture her by force – making the North, in fact, just an extension of the system of slavery.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda sends a friend to visit the Dodges in their hotel, ostensibly to ask after his family in the South. Mr. Dodge immediately begins questioning him about Linda’s whereabouts, but the friend says he doesn’t know where she is and that she refuses to buy the freedom to which she’s already entitled. Young Mrs. Bruce encourages Linda to leave the city, but she stubbornly refuses, tired of running away. Outside, she hears church bells ringing and thinks of the hypocrisy of preaching the Bible’s message while allowing the practice of slavery.
Linda has usually criticized Christian doctrine in terms of its application in the South, but now she sees religious hypocrisy in New York as well. The growing parallels between North and South show that the Northern reader can’t view slavery as a distant social ill, but rather a highly contagious form of evil.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
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Soon, Ellen convinces her mother to leave the city and the two travel to New England. Young Mrs. Bruce writes her proposing to resolve the situation by buying Ellen’s freedom herself, but Linda is reluctant to accept the offer—she hates to treat herself as “an article of property,” even in order to secure her freedom. Despite her equivocations, Mrs. Bruce begins negotiating with Mr. Dodge to sell Linda and abandon his claims on her children. She soon writes Linda triumphantly that her freedom has been secured and she can now come home.
It’s sad that, even after her escape to the North, Linda has to surrender her moral concerns in order to obtain her freedom and safety. However, it’s a testament to Mrs. Bruce’s character that she uses her privilege in this situation to empower Linda, rather than betraying or exploiting her.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Linda is astounded to find that she has been “sold” in the supposedly free city of New York. She imagines that people of the future will be shocked to see sale contracts existing in this Northern state, so late in the nineteenth century. Even though she treasures her freedom, she hates looking at the document that bought it for her.
Linda wants her Northern readers to understand their proximity to and complicity in the system of slavery, in order to spur them to concrete action against it.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Nevertheless, Linda feels relieved that she will never have to hide or escape again. Young Mrs. Bruce receives her with tears of joy and Linda remembers the efforts of her father and Grandmother, who tried to buy her without success and who would take pleasure in her triumph now.
Even though she’s so distant from her family, by thinking of her freedom as the fulfillment of a family goal, Linda is able to preserve her feelings of closeness to them.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Grandmother lives long enough to hear of Linda’s freedom before her death. Soon afterward, Uncle Phillip dies as well. Linda is surprised to see his obituary published in the newspaper—normally, such privileges are reserved for white people.
The quickness of her relatives’ deaths emphasizes that, for Linda, the official acquisition of freedom marks a complete break with her former life in the South.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda concludes that “my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage.” She rejoices that Benny and Ellen are safe both from slaveholders in the South and “the white people of the north.” She still longs to establish a home of her own, where she can live with her children, but for now she’s content to remain in the employment of young Mrs. Bruce, who has been such a loyal and generous friend. Remembering and writing about her experiences as a slave is very painful, but she’s consoled by memories of her moments with Grandmother, which are like “light, fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea.”
Although Linda has always endorsed traditional modes of femininity, here she steps away from them to close her narrative. Contrasting freedom with marriage, she suggests that she’s not just legally emancipated but independent of all the men who have exploited her. Linda’s maternal role is central to her being, but her concept of motherhood is active, independent, and empowering – thus, she melds traditional values with her own empowered attitude.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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