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 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Linda pines greatly for William, who has gone with Mr. Sands to Washington. After the legislative session, he accompanies him on a trip to the North. Mr. Sands has promised to free William but never specified a date, and Linda wonders whether he will try to escape. However, Mr. Sands writes to Grandmother praising William’s faithfulness and saying that although abolitionists have tried to “decoy him away,” he has remained loyal.
Mr. Sands’s naïve belief that William can’t or won’t escape of his own accord, only with prodding from abolitionists, suggests his own belief in the moral rectitude of slavery, regardless of the ways in which he’s helped Linda. This makes it impossible for Linda to rely on him as a friend or, more importantly, as a father.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Sands announces that he’s returning to the South with a new bride. The family is eager to see William, but no letters from him arrive. Grandmother prepares an enormous homecoming meal, but Mr. Sands arrives in the city without William. He sends a servant to tell Grandmother that he has, in fact, run away with help from abolitionists. Still, Mr. Sands is confident that he will soon come back, as life in the North cannot be better than life with him.
Here, Mr. Sands is demonstrating tremendous arrogance and severely misapprehending William’s character. Even though he might be a kinder master than Dr. Flint, he’s still just as incapable of seeing his slaves as humans who logically desire freedom just as he does.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Grandmother is distraught rather than happy, thinking that she’ll never see William again. Linda is jealous that her brother is free while she is trapped, although she berates herself for being selfish. Moreover, she’s worried that Mr. Sands will be annoyed at the money he’s lost with William’s escape and take revenge by refusing to free the children.
The fact that William’s escape may bring retribution on his family makes clear that abolitionists can’t just work to help a few slaves escape – they must create a society that protects the integrity and security of entire black families.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
One afternoon, Linda hears Benny and Ellen asking Grandmother if they will ever see their mother again or live with her. Ellen says she doesn’t even remember what her mother looks like. Suddenly, an elderly neighbor named Aggie comes into the yard; seeing that Grandmother is anxious, she asks what’s wrong, and Grandmother says that William has run away.
It’s terrible for Linda to hear that her own children are so distanced from her – however, later in the novel she will see that they are loyal and loving despite their long separation, demonstrating the remarkable cohesion of many enslaved families despite all the obstacles they face.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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
Aggie is overjoyed to hear this news, and tells Grandmother she should fall on her knees and pray. All of her children have been sold away, and she will never know where they are. At least Grandmother knows that William has escaped. Linda admires this woman’s ability to take pleasure in William’s triumph even amidst her own woes, and vows to be less selfish.
Linda combats slaveholders’ depictions of slaves as lacking in morals by presenting moments of incredible unselfishness, like this one. Aggie is akin to Peter in her impulse to help others even when doing so confers no benefits on her.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Soon the family gets a letter from William, saying that although Mr. Sands is a kind master, he has always wanted to be free, and that he will try to earn enough money to bring his family north and create a home for them.
William’s logical discontent with his bondage to Mr. Sands and desire to be free contrasts completely with Mr. Sands’s understanding of their relationship.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Sands tells Uncle Phillip that William left brazenly; he even saw him carrying his trunk away, but William claimed he was having it repaired. Mr. Sands blames the corrupting influence of the abolitionists and still feels sure William will return.
Mr. Sands’s delusional inability to imagine William running away unaided shows that, no matter how much he likes William or thinks of him as a good servant, he can’t conceive of him as a full person with agency.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Much later, William tells Linda what actually happened: he doesn’t need abolitionists to tell him about freedom, and he decided to run away independently, knowing that Mr. Sands might decide not to free him at any time in the future. He conscientiously refrained from taking any money or belongings when he left, and Linda says that while slave holders call him a “base, ungrateful wretch,” they would have done the same thing. Mrs. Flint is heard to say that she’s glad Mr. Sands has been outwitted by the slaves, and she hopes he will sell the children to a speculator in revenge.
William’s escape from slavery is courageous and upstanding. He’s even tried to comply with the moral demands of the South – he hasn’t taken anything from Mr. Sands, despite having worked for him without pay for years. The fact that slaveholders see this as a misdeed rather than an act of bravery again shows their fundamental inability to recognize slaves’ humanity.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon