Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

At the wharf, Linda bids farewell to Uncle Phillip and Peter; she’s grateful that her friend has risked so much for her, and deeply upset to think that such an “intelligent, enterprising, noble-hearted man” would remain a slave for the rest of his life in a country that claims to be “civilized.” Linda boards a dinghy, accompanied by sailors who believe she is traveling to her husband in the North.
It’s interesting that Linda uses the word “civilized” here, as throughout the narrative white Southerners characterize slaves as less than human, or “uncivilized.” Linda encourages the reader to question this narrative and stop taking for granted that they and their society are inherently “civilized.”
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Fanny is amazed to see Linda arrive in the cabin, and she has to explain her whereabouts for the last years. The captain warns them not to cry too loudly or attract undue attention, but says they can come on deck when no other ships are around. The two women share their anxieties, but while Linda is hopeful about seeing her children again, Fanny knows that hers, sold to other plantations, are lost forever.
Linda is escaping with the hope of saving her children and reuniting her family – but Fanny’s painful story highlights the fact that, for many slaves, escape means losing the possibility of seeing one’s family again.
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The voyage proceeds without issue, but Linda can’t help mistrusting the captain and sailors. It’s completely within their power to turn around and sell them; the women have to trust completely in their honor. However, the captain’s “friendly and respectful” character is somewhat reassuring; he tells her that his brother is a slave trader, but he has always disliked the institution. Linda’s spirits soar when they reach the Chesapeake Bay and becomes clear that she won’t be caught.
Linda has no specific reason to dislike the captain, but given her lifetime of experience with powerful white men and her lack of legal rights compared to him, it’s logical that she doesn’t trust him. Moments like this demonstrate that even with “respectful and friendly” white people, open and equal relationships are impossible under the social conditions of slavery.
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By the time the ship arrives in Philadelphia, Linda feels that the captain could not have treated her better if she was a white woman. She and Fanny watch the sun rise for the first time in a free state; they are relieved to escape slavery but also feel isolated and adrift without their families.
Until now, Linda’s chief worry was keeping her family intact and protecting their home. Now, she has to build an entirely new home and find a new community.
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