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 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
All in all, Linda spends seven years in the miserable garret, all the time dreaming of escape, worrying about recapture, and longing for her children. After Ellen leaves, she becomes especially impatient and distressed. Moreover, in the stormy weather she and her bedding are frequently soaked with water. However, whenever she mentions the possibility of escape to Grandmother, the old woman becomes worried and upset.
Although Grandmother has been a sustaining force throughout Linda’s life, right now she’s holding her back from the one thing that will save her life – escape to the North. In her protective but brave mothering style, Linda will assimilate Grandmother’s principles but move past her reservations.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Linda has recently found out that an acquaintance, Fanny, run away in order to avoid being sold, and is hiding with her mother Aggie next door. Benny happened to catch a glimpse of her and told Grandmother, who warned him never to speak of it again, and he has kept the secret well.
This coincidence emphasizes that Linda’s story is not unique, but rather part of a larger narrative of families trying to stay together and help each other escape.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
One night, Peter arrives at the house and tells Linda that he’s found a way for her to escape to the North on a ship. She has two weeks to decide what to do. Uncle Phillip urges her to go and even talks Grandmother into the plan. Linda gets ready for the journey and promises that once she arrives in the North, she will write Dr. Flint asking to be sold to Grandmother. The old woman wants to die knowing that her granddaughter is legally free; privately, Linda resolves not to pay any money for the freedom to which she’s entitled.
Grandmother is thinking about the practical concern of obtaining Linda’s freedom, while Linda is more worried about the injustice of paying for it. Here, as in the rest of the narrative, Linda emphasizes that escaping freedom isn’t just about improving one’s life materially but refuting the system’s constant dehumanization.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Just before the intended departure, the ship on which Linda is supposed to escape is detained for several days. At the same time, a recaptured fugitive slave is killed gruesomely (this is James, whose case Linda =described earlier). Frightened, Grandmother persuades Linda not to go. She tells Peter to give the spot on the ship to Fanny instead, and he approaches Aggie without letting her know that Linda is still hiding in the area.
Grandmother is behaving somewhat illogically here – Linda may not have another escape opportunity for a long time, and her discovery could lead to the family’s ruin. Again, Grandmother’s extremely cautious outlook as a mother figure contrasts with Linda’s more daring attitude.
Themes
Motherhood and Family 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
Once Fanny is aboard the ship the weather turns bad and it stays docked for several days, to everyone’s consternation. On the third day Grandmother calls Linda out of the attic; she’s panicking about the likelihood of Fanny being discovered, and Linda has to calm her down. Just then, the housemaid Jenny appears, ostensibly looking to buy some crackers from Grandmother. It’s unclear if she’s actually spotted Linda, but they have to act as if she has.
Grandmother has always supported Linda and told her what to do, but now Linda has to take on the dominant role in the relationship. This moment of generational role reversal is typical in many families, but in theirs it’s complicated by the additional pressures of slavery and escape.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Uncle Phillip says that Linda must get on the boat with Fanny. Informed about the emergency, Peter rushes to the wharf and finds the ship setting off; he rushes aboard and tells the captain that he needs to bring another woman on the ship. After some confusion and a bribe, the captain agrees to wait until Linda arrives that night.
Here, Peter is repeatedly exposing himself to risk, even though he’s not hoping to escape himself and Linda isn’t even part of his family. His selflessness contrasts starkly with the selfish behavior of slave owners like Dr. Flint.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda passes the day in anxiety, hoping that Jenny doesn’t have time to go to the Flints before she leaves. She asks for Benny to be brought to the shed and he confesses that he’s always suspected she was hiding there and knew for sure once she spent the night with Ellen. He’s always tried to keep children from playing too near the shed and kept watch for Dr. Flint. Linda is amazed and proud of his intelligence and maturity.
Just as Linda has to start caring for her grandmother emotionally, Benny has astutely observed his mother’s vulnerabilities and done his best to protect her. This touching moment between mother and son evokes a sense of continuity and strength within Linda’s family – a remarkable feat, given that slavery constantly works to tear families apart.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda explains that she is going north and that if Benny is good, God will reunite them soon. As they are embracing, Grandmother comes in, bringing some money for Linda to take with her. She takes Linda’s hand and the family kneels to pray, holding one another. Linda has never felt so earnest and trusting in her prayers. All too soon, she departs with Peter, leaving home forever.
Here, Linda evokes family and Christianity – key concepts through which she’s appealed to the reader – and links them explicitly to freedom. This is part of her general tactic of showing that popular social values are consistent with abolition, not slavery.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Related Quotes