Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 33 Summary & Analysis

After a difficult search for employment without references, she’s hired by a British woman, Mrs. Bruce, as a nursemaid for her young baby, Mary. Mrs. Bruce turns out to be an exceptionally kind employer—for example, when Linda’s legs, still recovering from her time in the garret, swell too much to climb upstairs, she rearranges the house so she can work on the ground floor and pays for her medical care. At first Linda doesn’t reveal her fugitive status because she’s so used to white families betraying her; however, she soon becomes comfortable sharing “intelligent conversation” with Mrs. Bruce and exploring her library in her leisure time.
Linda’s mutually respectful relationship with Mrs. Bruce is a direct contrast to her interactions with most white women in the South, especially Mrs. Flint. While the difference is partly due to Mrs. Bruce’s character, it’s also important that it takes place in the North, where Mrs. Bruce has less power over her employee and Linda feels more secure in her rights. Mrs. Bruce’s British nationality also plays into Linda’s later conclusion that Britain is inherently less racist than America.
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Mrs. Bruce suggests that Ellen come to live at her house, but Linda is afraid to offend Mrs. Hobbs, who could easily apprise Dr. Flint of her whereabouts. Still, she’s very unhappy with Ellen’s situation— Mrs. Hobbs now demands that Linda pay for her shoes and clothing, and she refuses to let her stay with Mrs. Bruce in order to see an eye doctor to solve a chronic illness. Linda believes that this refusal stems from Mrs. Hobbs’s fear that she will take her daughter away.
Mrs. Hobbs is not only neglectful of Ellen but directly prevents Linda from caring for her as she wants to. Moments like this show how slavery – even in states where it doesn’t legally exist – subverts the role of motherhood, which Linda and her readers would have considered the most important part of a woman’s life.
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Altogether, this is both a “sweet and bitter time.” When holding Mary, whom she loves, Linda recalls the infancy of Ellen and Benny. One day, looking out the window, she sees a man in a sailor’s uniform and realizes it’s William. She rushes down to embrace him, and the siblings rejoice to be reunited again as a family—Linda says that their bond is even stronger because it has been “formed by suffering.”
Linda’s ability to love the child she’s caring for contrasts with Mrs. Hobbs’s refusal to see Ellen as one of her own children, as Mr. Sands promised, or even to care for her as a child at all.
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