Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Because of Mrs. Flint’s antipathy towards her, Linda is still living in Grandmother’s house. Dr. Flint frequently visits and scolds her for “lowering herself” by her involvement with Mr. Sands. She doesn’t care about his opinion, but she deeply regrets that she no longer has a chance at a “respectable” life. In order to scare Linda, Dr. Flint sometimes threatens to sell her son.
Dr. Flint believes that Linda has demeaned herself by refusing to obey him, but he doesn’t seem to understand that for her, a coercive sexual relationship with him is the most demeaning prospect of all. Dr. Flint’s concept of the most “respectable” life for Linda is predicated on his belief that she has no right to agency or self-determination.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Soon, Linda gets pregnant again. When she tells Dr. Flint, he becomes enraged and, in revenge, cuts off all her hair, in which she takes a lot of pride. He starts coming to the house every day to hurl insults at her; Grandmother tries to defend her, but only inflames his anger.
Dr. Flint’s ability to harm Linda physically in her own house demonstrates the essential fragility of domestic life for slaves.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda gives birth to a baby girl. She despairs at finding out her baby’s gender, being convinced that slavery is “far more terrible for women” than for men. Soon after her labor, Dr. Flint arrives at the house, commanding Linda to stand before him and insulting her until she faints at his feet. He hurries out of the house before Grandmother catches him abusing her. Linda feels that, if not for her children, she would want to die.
Motherhood is supposed to be the most fulfilling and respected aspect of a woman’s life. However, Linda is filled with doubt because she knows she can’t protect her daughter, and is susceptible to abuse even during this physically vulnerable to time. Moments like this show how slavery devalues and punishes even motherhood.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Grandmother is determined to have the children christened, even though Linda knows Dr. Flint would forbid such a thing. While he is on a business trip, they sneak into the church to perform the ceremony. Linda imagines her mother bringing her own children for baptism; she was a faithful married woman, and had no reason to be ashamed. Linda is glad that she’s not alive now.
Linda’s loving behavior and determination to fulfill religious norms contrasts with her extremely self-critical attitude. The reader understands that Linda is doing the best she can in this situation, but she won’t accept this conclusion until much later.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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The children are christened Benjamin (Benny) and Ellen; Linda gives them the surname of her father, who derived it from his own father, a white man. She’s humiliated that she can’t give her children a husband’s surname. In honor of the occasion, Linda’s father’s former mistress gives Ellen a gold necklace, but Linda soon takes it off, not wanting her daughter to wear any kind of chain.
Linda feels she’s betrayed her parents with her marriage, but she also suggests that her father was conceived in an extramarital relationship – which, like hers, may not have been entirely voluntary. Her comments here hint at the complicated genealogies of slave families, and the extent to which their heritage is the result of sexual abuse and coercion.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon