Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl can help.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Returning to New York, Linda visits Ellen. She knows that Mrs. Hobbs’s Southern brother, Mr. Thorne, is visiting so she stays in the kitchen. However, he wants to greet her, and Mrs. Hobbs insists she go upstairs. Mr. Thorne is a drunken spendthrift who has often borrowed money from Grandmother and professes great attachment to her; Linda does not respect or trust him, but he greets her very cordially and wishes her good luck.
Like Dr. Flint occasionally does, Mr. Thorne tries to present a narrative of closeness between his family and Linda’s. However, Linda astutely points out that any relationship they had was based on exploitation and misdeeds, and thus no genuine closeness can exist.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Ellen never complains about her situation, but Linda can tell she’s unhappy. Questioning her one day, she finds that since Mr. Thorne has arrived, Ellen has been forced to buy and serve liquor every day. Years later, she discovers that Mr. Thorne has “poured vile language” into Ellen’s ears, despite his professed respect for Grandmother.
Right now, Ellen is reliving Linda’s early years in the Flint household. While Mrs. Hobbs is less overtly cruel than Mrs. Flint, she’s still completely failing Ellen as a maternal figure – and Northern society, which doesn’t guarantee Linda’s rights over her children, is enabling her.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One Sunday when Linda goes to visit her daughter, Ellen reveals that she’s found a torn-up letter from Mr. Thorne to Dr. Flint, saying that as a “patriot [and] a lover of my country” he has the duty to apprise him of Linda’s location. When Ellen and the Hobbs children put the pieces together and showed Mrs. Hobbs, she confronted her brother, but he’s already mailed a copy, and soon leaves New York.
Mr. Sands encouraged Linda to trust the Hobbs family, but they have now behaved unscrupulously towards Ellen and jeopardized Linda’s freedom. Again and again, he proves remiss in his duties as a father, while the family’s survival depends on cooperation and closeness between mother and children.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda is frustrated to leave a good job and disrupt her plans for her children, all because of her continued vulnerability. Linda confesses to Mrs. Bruce that she’s a fugitive; the kind woman consults two lawyer friends, who advise going north immediately. She stays with a friend from Mrs. Bruce until William arrives to take her to Boston. Mrs. Hobbs, who feels guilty about her brother’s actions, lets Ellen return to her mother—albeit without any warm clothes. Seeing the girl’s sorry state, Mrs. Bruce gives her some of her own shawls and hoods.
Mrs. Bruce’s generous nature and immediate sympathy contrast with the fact that Mrs. Hobbs doesn’t even apologize for putting Linda’s life in danger. Not only are positive relationships between black and white women impossible under slavery, they’re also unlikely in environments like the Hobbs household, where slavery is considered acceptable or normal.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Get the entire Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl LitChart as a printable PDF.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl PDF
Linda, William, and Ellen board a steamboat towards Boston. Normally, black passengers are not allowed to sit inside the cabin but have to spend the entire journey on the deck. Linda is anxious to sit inside, both to avoid Ellen catching cold and to stay unobserved. She pleads with the captain and the stewardess, who eventually make an exception, perhaps inferring that she’s a fugitive.
Although Linda is often discriminated against in public places, sometimes she gains sympathy and aid for her fugitive status. For her, the North isn’t characterized by an unequivocal embrace of freedom but constant tension between abolitionists and sympathizers with slavery.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Arriving in Boston, Linda feels happier and safer than ever before—even better, she’s finally reunited with both her children. Telling Mrs. Hobbs that Ellen must stay with her and go to school, she sets up house with a friend and works as a seamstress throughout the winter.
Although Mr. Thorne has tried to hurt the family, he’s actually enabled Linda to recover custody of her daughter – she manages to turn the machinations of slaveholders to her own advantage.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon