Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dr. Flint contrives another plan to bring Linda under his will: he informs her that he’s building her a house of her own, outside the town. By this point many people are gossiping about his conduct and Mrs. Flint’s jealousy, so he hopes to isolate Linda and protect himself from scandal. Linda promises herself that she will never go to this house, but she doesn’t know how she can combat him.
Homes are supposed to represent familial tranquility and social respectability, especially for women; however, Dr. Flint’s proposed cottage symbolizes the abandonment of these ideals.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Addressing the reader, Linda says that she has to relate a shameful time of her life “which I would gladly forget if I could.” She can’t pretend that she didn’t know what she was doing or the sinful nature of her actions, as the conditions of slavery had made her “prematurely knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world.” In fact, she takes action with “calculation.”
Linda excoriates herself throughout this chapter for voluntarily entering an extramarital relationship. This is troubling for the modern reader, who should understand that Linda is acting to remove herself from an untenable situation. However, she has to explain to her audience and personally grapple with her failure to fulfill sexual norms.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Still, Linda appeals to “ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood” not to judge her. If she wasn’t enslaved, she could have married the carpenter and lived chastely for her entire life. As it is, she has to choose between two hateful actions, and she feels “as if I was forsaken by God and man.”
While Linda criticizes herself, she also makes clear that her actions were predicated by the conditions of slavery and her sexual vulnerability within the system.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As it happens, after hearing about Dr. Flint’s conduct, another slave owner, Mr. Sands, become interested in Linda, writing sympathetic letters to her. His behavior is flattering and he’s much kinder and more refined than Dr. Flint. She begins to feel that it’s “less degrading to give one’s self, than to submit to compulsion” and she would rather be involved with a single man than a married one. Linda acknowledges that there might be “sophistry” in her thinking, but as a slave it’s impossible to make choices purely based on morality.
At this point, Linda has to choose between an overtly abusive relationship and a somewhat voluntary one. Although Mr. Sands does give Linda some protection from Dr. Flint, his behavior is still exploitative – both as a slaveholder who has infinitely more legal and social power than a slave, and as a man whose reputation suffers no damage for an extramarital relationship, while Linda’s is destroyed.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
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When Linda sees Dr. Flint actually start building the house, she knows she can exact revenge and gain some protection by becoming involved with another man. Perhaps Mr. Sands will even buy her; if she has any children, Linda is determined that Dr. Flint won’t be able to control them and sell them. Because of all these considerations, she embarks on an affair with Mr. Sands. “The painful and humiliating memory” will stay with her forever, but in reflection on her actions she feels “that the slave woman ought not to be judged by the same standards as others.”
While Linda’s affair with Dr. Sands is technically consensual, it’s extremely unequal and not positive in any way. It’s appalling that Linda has to engage in a relationship against her inclinations, and forfeit the chaste reputation which means so much to her, just to gain some limited protection from her persecutor. From this predicament, Linda’s assertion that slave women can’t fulfill the same sexual norms as free women proceeds logically, and seems especially compelling.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As the months pass, Linda is still very anxious, especially because she knows Grandmother will be enraged to find that she’s “degraded” herself. But when Dr. Flint triumphantly tells Linda the house is finished, she takes pride in informing him that she’s having a child with another man.
It’s important that Linda couches her affair here not in terms of sexuality – seen as unacceptable in women – but in terms of motherhood, which is highly valued.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Fearing Dr. Flint’s retribution now that she’s confessed, Linda goes to Grandmother’s house. Soon Mrs. Flint arrives, screaming at Linda and accusing her of having a child with her husband. Grandmother is furious; she tells Linda that she’s “a disgrace to your dead mother” and throws her out of the house.
Although Linda is always respectful and loyal towards Grandmother, she will eventually depart from her strict views on sexuality, coming to a more nuanced and tolerant understanding of her own actions.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Linda doesn’t know where to go, so she walks aimlessly for a few miles and collapses against a tree trunk before continuing on to the house of a family friend, where she stays for several days. At last, Grandmother comes to fetch her; Linda tells her about all the abuse that led to her recent decision and begs for her forgiveness. Grandmother holds Linda’s head and comforts her, calling her “poor child.”
It’s important that, as Linda prepares to become a mother, she’s most supported by the maternal figure in her own life. Motherhood emerges as something that has the potential to bind women together regardless of their differences, and allows them to relate to each other independently of men.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon