Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Dr. Flint has Uncle Phillip arrested, trying to charge him with helping Linda. Mr. Sands works to have him released, as there is no proof, but in the meantime Linda again hides under the kitchen. Walking over her, Betty mumbles about the news of the day, ostensibly talking to herself, so Linda can stay updated. Dr. Flint has all the houses in town searched, even the one in which Linda is hiding. Even after Uncle Phillip is finally released from prison, her family is closely watched.
Dr. Flint’s ability to invade even the white woman’s house shows the extent to which slavery, and the legal defense of it, imperil the security and domestic comfort of all homes. This is one of the many ways in which slavery emerges as detrimental to tranquility of the entire society.
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Linda knows she must find a new hiding place. She’s stayed here longer than intended, and she knows it’s “a source of perpetual anxiety” for the white woman hiding her. Moreover, one morning she hears a housemaid named Jenny trying to enter her room. While she doesn’t have the right key, Linda feels she must know something unusual is going on, and Betty says that she’s always been untrustworthy. Linda decides to leave that night. She never again sees the woman who risked herself to hide her.
One of the especially distressing aspects of slavery is its ability to turn even slaves against each other – for example, Jenny could expose Linda in hopes of a reward. While Linda is upset and frightened, she never blames Jenny personally, standing by her previous statements that it’s almost impossible to act solely on one’s moral impulses under slavery.
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Linda has arranged to meet her Uncle Phillip, but she doesn’t know if she’s escaping or going to hide somewhere else. Betty gives her some clothes and expresses hope that she’ll soon be in a free state. When she leaves the house she finds Peter, a longtime friend, waiting for her. In a boat, he rows her out to a swamp where she must stay until Uncle Phillip constructs a hiding place for her. In the swamp Linda is soon covered in mosquito bites, and she has to beat off snakes with a stick.
Linda and especially Betty are hopeful about escape right now, but her improvised hiding place in the swamp starts to dampen her spirits. This moment of physical hardship foreshadows the years-long struggle she will endure before being able to finally escape to the North.
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
After another day in this hellish environment Peter decides that she must go home. Linda disguises herself and darkens her face with charcoal and they walk openly through the streets of the town. Peter tells her to enjoy the walk, as she won’t have another opportunity for a long time.
Linda’s physically daring act of walking through the streets contrasts with her actual lack of freedom, and heightens the sense of bondage and danger in which she lives.
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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