Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As spring unfolds, Linda becomes impatient with hiding, but her family has been unable to find any safe route of escape. She’s angry to be trapped in the airless and boiling hot garret while Dr. Flint is free to enjoy the summer nights. Sometimes she worries she will die in the garret, but time passes and she sees autumn and another winter.
Linda’s bitter comparison of herself with Dr. Flint emphasizes her innate confidence in her own rights and humanity – it’s remarkable that she’s so strong in these feelings, given that her environment constantly contrives to rob her of them.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Looking out her window, Linda sees many scenes of local slave life. Once she sees a woman trudging by in despair; Grandmother tells her that she’s just given birth to a child who looks exactly like her master, and his wife has had them both sold to a slave trader. Another time she sees a slave running desperately away from the police; her mistress has ordered her to be whipped and she eventually jumps in the river and drowns herself. Episodes like this occur frequently and publicly, yet politicians like Senator Brown persist in telling Congress that slavery is “a blessing to the slave.”
Linda shows the reader that the wrongs of slavery are public and widely understood – it’s not simply a matter of private and unobserved abuse like that which she receives from Dr. Flint. This helps her make a direct attack on senators who pretend slavery is a positive thing, characterizing them as actively lying rather than simply ignorant.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
The second winter is especially difficult for Linda. Her limbs stiffen in the cold and she even sometimes loses the ability to speak; at times she’s delirious and at risk of exposing herself by shouting. The family tries to treat her, but they’re obviously unable to get her real medical care. When William finally devises a way to make a fire for her, she’s so happy that she cries.
Although Linda doesn’t often dwell on the awful conditions in which she lives, her severe sickness emphasizes him. While she has technically escaped from slavery, in no sense is she living a fulfilling or happy life.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Moreover, Linda feels helpless when her family encounters problems. One day, she sees a dog attack Benny in the yard but is unable to come to his assistance. Moreover, Grandmother becomes seriously ill herself and Linda is unable to take care of her. Mrs. Flint won’t let Aunt Nancy leave her house to take care of Grandmother, but to avoid seeming lacking in “Christian charity” she pays a visit herself and gets Dr. Flint to treat the old woman. Linda is terrified to have him so close at hand.
Just as when Dr. Flint threw Benny across the room and prevented Linda from going after him, his incessant searching makes it impossible for her to perform her maternal duties now. Dr. Flint is responsible not just for the live she lives under slavery but the things she endures after her escape.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
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As Mrs. Flint leaves, she notices Benny’s wound and announces her wish that the dog had killed the boy, so she could deliver the news to his mother. Fortunately, Grandmother’s fever breaks shortly after this and there’s no cause for the doctor or his wife to return.
This is a shocking statement, showing that the moral corruption of slavery has caused Mrs. Flint to abandon even a nurturing attitude towards children, which was considered essential to women of her time.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon