Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

In the spring, Linda is saddened to learn that Mrs. Bruce has died suddenly. Mr. Bruce decides to take Mary to see her English relatives and hires Linda to care for her during the journey. Leaving her children with friends, she sets off for London, where no one questions her right to sit by her employer at dinner. That night, she feels the sensation of “pure, unadulterated freedom” for the first time. She’s proud that Mary behaves well among the children of her father’s friends.
The trip to England is eye-opening for Linda. It’s the first time she’s been able to feel truly secure in her freedom, and it’s an opportunity for her to put her intelligence and observational skills to work. At the same time, it’s painful that she constantly has to work among other families and leave her own children when she’s longing to build them a permanent home.
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Traveling into the country, Linda sees families who work in the fields for pitiful wages and live in tiny, “primitive” cottages. Despite this poverty, their lives seem better than “the condition of the most favored slaves of America.” Their homes are small but protected by law and no one can break apart a family or abuse vulnerable women without incurring punishment. Many charitable campaigns are working to educate these people and give them more opportunities; no one is forbidding them to learn to read.
Linda’s egalitarian presentation of England doesn’t take into full account the country’s terrible class stratification, or the fact that the British were busily engaged in racist colonial projects all over the world. However, it does emphasize that recognized and unalienable freedom is more important than any material advantage.
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Moreover, Linda receives “strong religious impressions” in England, where the genuine faith and humility of the clergymen she meets contrasts starkly with the “contemptuous” manner with which American pastors treat slaves and their firm defense of slavery. During her entire time in England, Linda never experiences the slightest instance of discrimination—in fact, she almost forgets that racial prejudice exists until she returns to America.
Here, Linda argues that the intent and manner in which Christianity is practiced determines its validity. This is both a critique of Christian doctrine as employed in the South and a hope for a more inclusive and progressive church.
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