Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 35 Summary & Analysis

For the summer vacation, Linda accompanies the Bruce family on a cruise to Albany. At tea, all the white maids eat with their charges, but when Linda sits at the table she’s immediately scolded—by a black waiter, no less. Linda refuses to leave unless the captain demands it, but no one brings her any tea. The next morning, at a hotel in Troy, the landlord requests that Linda eat breakfast with his family in order to avoid seating her among the guests. Linda is displeased to find Saratoga full of Southerners, and feels anxious until they depart.
When she first arrived at the Durham house, Linda was astonished at the ostensibly egalitarian society in which they lived. Now, she sees that her first impressions were naïve. Moments like this hint at the battles that will remain after the abolition of slavery – and, although she didn’t know it, the discrimination that would persist more than a century later.
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On another vacation that summer, Linda is staying in a hotel with the Bruces. At dinner, she brings Mary to a special table where nurses are seated with the children; however, the waiter tells her that she can’t sit down but must stand behind the baby’s chair and feed her. Linda refuses to eat at the table and Mr. Bruce has the baby’s meals sent to their rooms, but after a few days the white waiters refuse to serve her because she’s black.
The Bruces’ outrage at Linda’s treatment and willingness to help her stand up to the hotel staff differentiates them from most of the white people in the narrative – but it still doesn’t help Linda that much when she’s facing a large and implacable institution.
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The landlord tells Mr. Bruce that Linda is creating a problem, because the black servants of other guests will be dissatisfied that they aren’t being treated like she is. She feels that these servants “ought to be dissatisfied with themselves,” for allowing themselves to be humiliated like this. After she asserts her case for a few days, everyone gets used to it and behaves more respectfully; she feels that if all black people would behave like this it will eventually lessen the general prevalence of discrimination.
As in an earlier moment after Grandmother buys Phillip’s freedom, Linda promotes the idea that a person is personally responsible for convincing people to treat them equally. In a way, Linda is urging black people to turn to activism as she will shortly do, but she’s also implicitly contradicting other arguments – such as her central belief that black women can’t be responsible for their sexual purity under slavery.
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