Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Of course, Dr. Flint returns from New York having failed in his quest. Mr. Sands again tries to buy the children, sending a slave trader to offer good prices. At first Dr. Flint rejects the suggestion, but he needs money and at the last minute agrees to sell them, as well as William.
This is exactly the outcome that Linda has hoped for – by freeing herself from slavery she has managed to improve her children’s lives, while remaining with the Flints would have kept them powerless.
Themes
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In order to avoid suspicion from Dr. Flint, the trader pretends to take them out of the state. William is put in chains and Aunt Nancy and Grandmother say goodbye to the children as if they’ll never see them again; seeing the children in the trader’s cart, Grandmother feels that the trick is too real and faints in anxiety.
Grandmother’s anxiety reminds the reader that, even though the family wants Mr. Sands to buy the children, he’s still a slaveholder and, as such, not entirely trustworthy. Belonging to him is still a long way from being free.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
The Flints think that the trader has left town, but he actually stops a few miles away and releases William, Benny, and Ellen to Uncle Phillip. He seems to think that the deception is a good joke, and congratulates William on improving his lot in life, saying that trading slaves is “a bad business for a fellow that’s got any heart.” Having heard Linda’s story, he’s helped in Mr. Sands’ plan without even charging a fee.
Evoking this complex character – a slave trader who is becoming ambivalent about his work – Linda shows that not even all white Southerners are satisfied with slavery, encouraging her readers not to blindly trusts its defenders and pro-slavery propaganda.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
William and the children return to Grandmother’s house, where the family has a clandestine but joyous celebration, giving thanks to God. Mr. Sands visits briefly to see his children’s happiness.
Mr. Sands’s brief visit stands out against this moment of family happiness – it shows how distanced he is from his children, regardless of having bought them.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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Meanwhile, Linda is sitting in the attic, alone for the night. She hears a band playing a folk song outside her window and to her anxious mind it sounds like “the moaning of children.” For a minute, she thinks she sees the shadows of Benny and Ellen on the floor, and she becomes convinced that something bad has happened. The next day, she hears a housemaid mention that her children have been sold to a trader but are rumored to still be in town; she’s desperate to know what’s really going on.
The family’s reunion contrasts starkly with Linda’s loneliness and isolation right now. For the rest of the narrative, she’ll try to figure out a way to build a new home for her children – suggesting that the abolitionist movement can’t just be about procuring freedom or helping escapees, but creating a world in which all black families can live in security.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
After hours of suspense, Betty sneaks into the attic smiling joyfully, telling her that her children and brother now belong to Mr. Sands. Thinking how angry Dr. Flint is going to be, she laughs.
Betty’s joy in defeating Dr. Flint contrasts with Linda’s continued worry over her children.
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Dr. Flint visits Grandmother in a fury, threatening to kill her and Phillip if he finds out they’re helping Linda. Grandmother is unmoved, knowing how much his power over her family has been reduced. For Linda, this is a “season of joy and thanksgiving”; no matter what happens to her, she knows that at least her children will escape from slavery.
Right now, Linda believes that her children are completely safe in Mr. Sands’s hands. However, she will eventually change her mind about this and conclude that he will never feel as strongly for his illegitimate children as for his white ones.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon