Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In New York, Linda and Fanny are overwhelmed by the confusion of the train station. An untrustworthy cab driver proposes to drive them through the city in the back of a cart, which Linda finds unsuitable, and only with great difficulty do they manage to reclaim their trunks from him and find a better conveyance. Fanny goes to a boardinghouse while Linda seeks out a friend from the south, who is going to help her find Ellen.
Again, Linda is trying to demonstrate her respectability – but she also shows that, because she and Fanny are treated so much less respectfully than white women, it’s impossible for them to fulfill expectations of polite female behavior. Passages like this both assert Linda’s rights to be treated a certain way and criticize their inability to access these rights.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
The friend takes Linda to Brooklyn, where another black woman from their area is living. On the street, she recognizes a teenager who used to live near her family but came north years ago. She’s shocked to find that the younger girl accompanying her, whom she barely recognizes, is Ellen. Mother and daughter embrace eagerly, but Linda is disturbed to see that Ellen looks shabby and neglected.
Linda’s reunion with her daughter is overshadowed by her immediate observation that all is not well with the girl. Her sharp eye is a testament to her motherly instincts, but this moment also highlights how, by being separated from her children for so long, Linda is prevented from acting on those instincts and fulfilling her role as a mother.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Ellen has to run an errand for Mrs. Hobbs, but she tells her mother to come to the house the next day. In the morning Linda writes to Mrs. Hobbs, wondering how to present herself to the family without revealing that she’s just escaped from the South and has been sheltered by her family. She decides to say that she’s just arrived from Canada, reassuring the reader that she detests “subterfuges” and never lies except when it’s unavoidable.
Ellen’s neglect and her anxiety about her errand already hint that Mrs. Hobbs isn’t the caring figure Linda had hoped for. In turn, this reflects badly on Mr. Sands, who has neglected his duties as a father by placing Ellen with an untrustworthy family or failing to specify how she should be treated.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Mrs. Hobbs cordially invites Linda to the house, and she’s able to speak further with her daughter. Ellen says that she’s been treated well, but it’s obvious she’s fibbing and she’s anxious to live with Linda as soon as possible. She hasn’t been sent to school and can barely read, although she’s nine. Linda hates to think of how long it will be before she has enough money to make a home for Ellen.
Although Ellen is safe in the Hobbs house, it’s clear that this is not a home that supports or cares for her – making it another example of households that, because of slavery and racism, don’t live up to ideals of domesticity.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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As Linda prepares to leave, Mrs. Hobbs tells her “coolly” that Mr. Sands has given Ellen to her daughter, as “a nice waiting maid when she grows up.” Linda doesn’t respond, but she’s furious at the woman’s disregard for her motherly claim on her daughter. She knows that Mr. Hobbs has recently lost most of his fortune, and she suspects that they are preparing to return to the South and want to keep Ellen as a valuable slave. She concludes that Mr. Sands has broken his promise to free the children.
It’s galling that, after all Linda’s effort, her daughter seems to be living out her own early life – in bondage to a young girl with an unscrupulous family. Mrs. Hobbs’s deceitful behavior and concern for her daughter’s future wealth contrasts with Linda’s legitimate concerns and grievances as a mother.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Feeling it necessary to legally free herself as soon as possible, Linda writes to Dr. Flint and Emily Flint asking him to sell her to Grandmother. She also seeks out William, who has moved to Boston. When she arrives in that city, however, she finds that he’s working on a whaling expedition. Returning to New York, she finds a letter from Dr. Flint reiterating his refusal to sell her unless she returns to the South first.
For the rest of the narrative, Dr. Flint will continue to attempt to trick Linda into returning South. His persistent belief that she will fall for these ruses shows his inability to understand that she’s an intelligent human being.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon