Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Sands has brought a wife back from the North, and Mrs. Flint threatens to inform her that he’s been involved with an “artful devil” and has two illegitimate children. Before she has the chance to do so, Mrs. Sands runs into Benny on the street and remarks on his good looks; Mr. Sands confesses that he is the father, but his wife is understanding, and asks to see the children at their house.
Mrs. Sands seems to be a contrast to Mrs. Flint, in that she’s unconcerned by her husband’s sexual past and feels kindly towards his children. However, just like her husband, she will emerge as complicit in the system of slavery even though she is less emblematic of its cruelties.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Grandmother is anxious at this development but has to agree to the request, as the children are still not free. Mrs. Sands’s sister, who is visiting, likes Ellen so much that she offers to adopt her; Mrs. Sands wants to adopt Benjamin. When Linda learns of this offer, she is distraught. She knows that it seems good for her children to be raised by prosperous families, but she also knows “how lightly slaveholders held such parental relations.” Even if they were informally adopted, the children could be sold at any time. She’s determined to see them formally emancipated.
Mrs. Sands and her sister see themselves as doing a good deed; however, they are treating the children more like pets than people, and seem to assume that Linda has no interest in mothering them herself. By refusing this offer, Linda reaffirms that motherhood is at the center of her being and that the integrity of her family is much more important than material advantages for her children.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Grandmother visits Mr. Sands, reminding him that Linda is still very much alive and does not want to see her children adopted. He says that Linda may “decide their fate” as she wants. Apparently, he has in fact freed the children, but Dr. Flint is now trying to claim that as they legally belonged to his daughter, his sale of them was not actually valid.
It’s odd that Mr. Sands has freed the children without telling Linda, and even stranger that Dr. Flint is trying to claim them after selling them. This shows that Linda can’t feel truly tranquil about her children’s status until she gets them out of the South.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
For her safety, Mr. Sands suggests sending Ellen to live with his cousin in Brooklyn, where she can go to school and be taken care of. It’s a good arrangement, but Linda still feels as if her children are caught between two masters. On the way to New York, Ellen is to accompany the Sands family as a nursemaid to Mrs. Sands’s new baby. Linda hates to think of her among strangers, working as a servant for her own sister.
Even though Mr. Sands is comparatively kind to Ellen, it’s clear that he doesn’t care about her as much or see her as equal to his white daughter through marriage. By casting doubt on his commitment as a father, Linda emphasizes the importance of her own role as a mother, and shows that she will need to be not just nurturing but active and protective.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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Linda is desperate to see Ellen face-to-face before she departs. Her family warns against it, since Ellen is so young and may be incapable of keeping the secret, but Linda is sure that her character is strong. In the dead of night, she descends from the garret and goes into Ellen’s room. At first the girl is shy and confused, but then she embraces Linda and says how much she and Benny have missed her. She is scared to leave her family and live among strangers, and she wants Linda to come with her.
Ellen’s eagerness to see her mother and live with her again is touching. It shows that, although the family has been separated for such a long time, their fundamental bonds remain central and intact.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda reassures Ellen that some day they will all live together again in the North. Mother and daughter nestle in bed all night long, not knowing if they will ever be reunited again. When Linda has to go back to the shed at dawn, Ellen kisses her and promises never to tell her secret. In the morning she hears the girl responding with perfect composure when the neighbors express their hope that she’ll find her mother in the North.
Like Linda, Ellen has to mature quickly in order to face the obstacles that slavery presents her with. Although Linda is proud of her daughter’s character, she also wishes that she could enjoy a more natural and secure childhood.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
When the Flints find out that Ellen has been sent away, they are very disgruntled. Mrs. Flint says that Mr. Sands has shown bad character by acknowledging his enslaved children, and says that taking Ellen away is an act of theft from her daughter. Linda is astounded that she thinks it moral for her daughter to “steal my children” but not for Mr. Sands to take care of his own.
It’s ironic that Mrs. Flint believes Mr. Sands has violated social norms by acknowledging his children, while Linda believes he’s failed them by not taking adequate care of them or trying harder to get them to the North.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda goes weeks without hearing anything about Ellen. Grandmother sends letters to Washington and Brooklyn, but no one responds. Linda feels betrayed by Mr. Sands, who had once spoken to her “protectingly and persuasively” but has now “broken and cast away” his obligations to her. She remarks that many Southern Congressmen have enslaved children but wish to ignore them as much as possible out of fear for their reputation.
It’s disturbing that Mr. Sands is so unconcerned with keeping Linda apprised of her daughter’s whereabouts – it shows a lack of respect for her concerns as a mother. Linda both criticizes this behavior and hints at its prevalence in society. Referencing the Congressmen, she encourages the reader to apply the lessons of this book to real life.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
After six months a letter arrives from Mr. Sands’s cousin, Mrs. Hobbs. She says that she will send Ellen to school, but adds that her cousin “has given her to me” as a maid. Linda is confused and disturbed—she doesn’t actually have any proof that Mr. Sands has freed Ellen, and it’s possible that he has actually given her to this woman. She tries to remind herself of Mr. Sands’s good character but remembers grimly that “slavery perverted all the natural feelings of the human heart.”
This confused situation points out how dependent Linda is on Mr. Sands for her children’s safety, and how unreliable he is as a father. It’s bitterly ironic that while Linda, despite being enslaved, has managed to be a loving and energetic mother, Mr. Sands is an apathetic father even with his huge advantages.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon