Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Linda sews new clothes as presents for her children. Her thoughts are with the plantation slaves who fear separation on hiring day, which arrives just after the holidays. She hears Benny telling a friend that Santa Claus has brought his presents because his mother is away, and wishes desperately that she could be close to him and tell him where she is.
Throughout this period of her life, Linda’s physical proximity to her children contrasts with her emotional distance from them, showing the extent to which slavery imperils not just physical security but intangible bonds between mothers and children.
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Linda relates the regional Christmas custom of the Johnkannaus. These are groups of male slaves from the plantations, who dress in bright costumes and fake horns and go around the neighboring houses beating drums and singing songs. Everywhere they go they get some money or rum, and they use the proceeds to stage an enormous party. All the children wake up early to witness the spectacle.
Even though the whole society seems to enjoy participating in cultural rituals originating with slaves, they can’t conceive of the people who perform these rituals as actually sharing their humanity. Moments like this emphasize the moral contradictions inherent to slavery.
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This Christmas, Grandmother invites the town constable over; in the course of the meal she shows him the entire house and invites him to look at everything, ostensibly in pride over her housekeeping but really to avert suspicion that she’s hiding Linda. He’s accompanied by a free black man who does “mean work” for the slave holders and tries to pretend to be white. Linda despises this man even more than the constable, who is often cruel to slaves but not hypocritical about his origins.
Like the housemaid Jenny, this is a former slave who has turned against his own people. Through such anecdotes Linda points out how slavery encourages hypocrisy and moral degradation in all members of the society.
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