Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Linda would rather her children grow up paupers in Ireland, where they can pursue a morally righteous life, than as slaves whose “wish to be virtuous” is treated as a crime.
This statement hints at Linda’s conviction that no matter what bribes Dr. Flint offers her, no material gains can be worth the loss of her dignity.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Mrs. Flint has understood her husband’s character for years, and could use this knowledge to protect her slaves, but she has only suspicion and anger towards them. She watches her husband constantly, but he finds ways to get to Linda undetected, for example sending her inappropriate letters once he finds out she can write, or forcing her to fan him while he eats and to listen “to such language as he saw fit to address to me.”
Mrs. Flint and Linda share the same goal – for Dr. Flint to stay faithful in his marriage – but rather than recognizing this, Mrs. Flint blames Linda for her husband’s crimes. Linda presents her anger and jealousy as emblematic of interactions between mistresses and female slaves.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Mrs. Flint becomes more and more angry at her husband. In order to get Linda alone, Dr. Flint decides to move his youngest daughter’s crib into his own suite of rooms and force Linda to sleep there as well (prior to this Linda had slept near Aunt Nancy, gaining some protection by the woman’s presence). When Mrs. Flint finds out about this, she forces Linda to swear truthfulness on a Bible and questions her about her husband.
Dr. Flint’s blatant attempt to force Linda to sleep in his room demonstrates his lack of respect for both her and his wife, as well as Mrs. Flint’s powerlessness within the marriage. Linda argues that slavery impugns the status of white wives within their own homes – a warning to white women that it’s not in their interest to support the institution.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Linda tells the truth, feeling sad for the obvious grief and humiliation Mrs. Flint displays. However, she knows that while the woman “pitied herself as a martyr” she can’t feel anything “for the condition of shame and misery” in which Linda lives. Linda knows Mrs. Flint will never be kind to her, but she hopes for some protection. Indeed, the mistress forces Dr. Flint to abandon his new sleeping arrangements.
Although she’s the one suffering most, Linda is able to empathize with Mrs. Flint’s despair in her marriage; however, the older woman is not able to feel anything for the teenager vulnerable to rape in her own home. Even though they share the same concerns, Mrs. Flint still can’t conceive of Linda as a human being.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Instead, Linda has to sleep in Mrs. Flint’s room. Linda is often terrified to find the older woman leaning over her while she sleeps or whispering in her ear; she even begins to worry that one night she’ll be killed. Sometimes Mrs. Flint confronts Dr. Flint with the evidence of his crimes, but he simply responds that “you tortured [Linda] into exposing me.” It’s clear that Mrs. Flint, decades younger than her husband, has no idea how to resolve the situation, and Linda pities her, knowing that Dr. Flint is the father of eleven slaves.
Obviously Dr. Flint’s advances are not limited to Linda but represents a larger pattern of abuse and infidelity. By openly flouting his marriage and making his home a site of sexual licentiousness, Dr. Flint forfeits his claim to respectability in Linda’s eyes. Through moments like this, she shows her readers that slavery brings moral and sexual degradation into the home.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Suspecting what’s going on, Grandmother tries to buy Linda, but Dr. Flint always refuses, saying that she rightly belongs to his daughter. Linda says that his scrupulousness in this matter is ironic due to his total lack of moral conscience. Dr. Flint often threatens to sell Linda away from the city, or tells her that she’s ungrateful for the care he’s given her. He tells her that he will “make a lady of” her if she submits to him.
Dr. Flint tries to dangle some sort of social advancement in front of Linda, but she feels that this is no substitute for true respectability, which is defined by her chastity.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
The terrible situation Linda is describing is typical of many Southern homes. She can’t believe that Northerners cooperate with this brutality by hunting fugitive slaves and permitting their recapture. It’s also astonishing that they permit their daughters to marry planters, only to discover their illegitimate “children of every shade of complexion” playing with their own. Such households are almost always corrupted by immorality and jealousy.
In this passage, Linda asserts that even if they don’t actively participate in slavery, Northerners make themselves complicit by tacitly condoning it. This is a very strong claim upon her readers, but it also appeals to their self-interest by showing the ways in which slavery corrupts white families as well as destroying black ones.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
There are a few exceptions to this trend. Linda knows two wives who pressured their husbands into freeing their illegitimate children and, by “displaying their superior nobleness” of their character, earned their husbands’ respect and improved their marriage.
Taking action on behalf of slaves, Linda argues, is not just a good deed but a mechanism of improving one’s status within one’s own marriage.
Themes
Women Theme Icon