Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s irrational for slaves to fall in love, when separation and disaster is always at hand. As a teenager Linda doesn’t understand this and she falls in love with a freeborn carpenter, who wants to marry her. However, she’s worried that marital happiness is impossible for her. Dr. Flint refuses to sell her; although Mrs. Flint would be happy to be rid of her, she thinks that slaves have no right to their own attachments.
It’s often Mrs. Flint who displays the most baldly dehumanizing beliefs about slaves – for example, that they’re not expected or entitled to fall in love. Linda combats these beliefs by frequently reiterating, as she does here, that slaves have the same feelings as everyone else.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda goes to a white friend of Grandmother’s, explains her situation, and asks her to convince Dr. Flint to sell her to the carpenter. The woman does so but fails, and Dr. Flint is enraged with Linda for falling in love with another man, acting as if she’s insulted him personally and saying that if she ever gets married it will be to one of his slaves. Linda points out that the carpenter loves her for her virtue, and is thus more worthy than her master; Dr. Flint suddenly strikes her.
Displaying a bizarre mindset, Dr. Flint tries to convince Linda that she’s being unchaste by refusing his advances, even though she’s trying to create a respectable life and marriage for herself. Moments like this argue that slavery completely perverts Southerners’ understanding of important moral and sexual standards.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Dr. Flint reminds Linda that he can do whatever he wants to her, and she retorts that he might be able to, but he has no rights over her. Enraged, he threatens to send her to jail and lectures about all the ways he’s tried to “make [her] happy.” He closes by threatening to shoot the carpenter if he ever sees him at the house.
Dr. Flint’s apparently sincere belief that he wants Linda to be happy demonstrates his conception of her as less than human – if he really thought of her as a person like himself, it would be impossible to conclude that forcing her into a sexual relationship would make her happy.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
For two weeks Dr. Flint doesn’t speak to Linda, but she’s scared and oppressed by his malicious watchfulness. Eventually, he informs her that he’s going to Louisiana soon and plans to take her with him. Linda is worried, but she doesn’t think he’ll go through with it. In fact, only Nicholas Flint goes to Louisiana and Dr. Flint won’t send Linda with him because he’s jealous of his own son’s advances on her.
That Dr. Flint is tacitly competing with his son over Linda demonstrates the twisted family dynamics to which slavery gives rise. Not only does their behavior create discord between father and son, it also brings sexual issues into the home, which was considered unacceptable in Linda’s era.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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Once, Dr. Flint catches Linda speaking to the carpenter in the street; at home he taunts her, asking when her wedding will be, and then screams curses at her. Linda can see that there’s no way to resolve the situation. Even if she married the carpenter as a slave, Dr. Flint would still be able to harass and exploit her, as the law gives husbands no way to protect enslaved wives. Moreover, any children they had would belong to Dr. Flint. Linda encourages the carpenter to go to the Free States, where he can have a better life, and he eventually leaves.
This is a really disturbing passage, showing how Linda’s simple desire to have a home with a man she loves makes her vulnerable to persecution by a sadistic master. It’s also important that even if she could get married, she wouldn’t have any of the social protections accorded to married free women. It’s impossible for her to fulfill ideals of respectability when her society doesn’t allow her to do so.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
The only consolation left in Linda’s life is her close relationship with William. Even that bond is not secure, though—she worries that Dr. Flint will sell him away to punish her. They often talk about escaping, but it’s hard to make plans when Linda is so sharply watched; moreover, Grandmother is very opposed to escape, thinking it too dangerous.
Bonds between siblings should be a source of emotional comfort, but at this time they’re an additional cause of anxiety for Linda.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon