Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Along with William, Linda moves to the house of Dr. Flint, Emily Flint’s father. Both children are resistant to their lot as slaves, partly because their father has always instilled in them the “feelings of a freeman,” for example saying that it’s a person’s father, not his mistress, who has the “strongest claim upon his obedience.” Grandmother tries to cheer up the children, but they are demoralized by the cold and unkind treatment they receive in the Flint house.
Although Linda’s home doesn’t provide her with material security or protection from being sold, life with her parents instilled a sense of self-respect and dignity that will sustain her and William through terrible experiences and eventually inspire them to escape.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
A year later, Grandmother delivers the sad news that Linda’s father has died. Grandmother tries to comfort her by saying that God has saved her parents from “evil days to come,” but Linda’s “heart rebelled against God” for taking her relatives. Mrs. Flint refuses to let Linda go to see her father’s body, and instead makes her spend the day arranging flowers for a party. The Flints feel that Linda’s father has spoiled her by teaching her to feel like a “human being.” Linda sees her father buried the next day.
Linda’s feelings of grief for her father are compelling and simple, creating a link between her and the reader through a universal experience. This recognition of shared humanity contrasts starkly with the Flints’ conviction that their slaves are not actually humans with feelings and rights. Here, Linda juxtaposes her obvious humanity with her society’s refusal to recognize it.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
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Linda and William are both more depressed than ever; when she tries to comfort her brother by saying they might earn money to buy themselves, he says he doesn’t want to pay money for his own freedom. Meanwhile, they barely get anything to eat because Mrs. Flint is so stingy with food for her slaves. Linda relies on Grandmother to provide her with good meals and clothes.
Both Linda and William will always resist the idea of buying their freedom, a step which seems to concede they aren’t already entitled to it. For them, moral concerns of dignity and justice are important as the material security that freedom provides.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
To add insult to injury, when Grandmother’s mistress dies, Dr. Flint, her executor, refuses to repay Grandmother the loan she once gave his mother-in-law. He also refuses to honor a provision in the woman’s will freeing Grandmother, and instead decides to sell her. He wants to do this privately, because Grandmother is well-known in the community and people will object to the sale of an old woman; however, Grandmother ascends to the auction block so her case is known to the public. Everyone is shocked, and an elderly friend of Grandmother’s dead mistress, Miss Fanny, buys her and sets her free.
Linda frequently presents disastrous relationships between enslaved and white women, notably her own with Mrs. Flint. However, Grandmother has a few friends who are white, one of whom even hides Linda after her escape. Because Grandmother is now free, she can interact with white people on a more equal basis and form relatively respectful relationships. Linda presents these friendships as a vision of future coexistence, but it’s clear that this vision is predicated on freedom, and can’t come to pass if slavery exists.
Themes
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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“Like many southern women,” Mrs. Flint is too lazy to run her own household but very energetic when it comes to whipping her slaves. Although she attends church every Sunday, after she comes home and eats dinner she spits in the leftovers so that the slaves won’t eat them. Meanwhile, Dr. Flint whips or humiliates the cook every time he doesn’t like a meal: once, after the dog becomes sick, he makes her eat dog food, and many times he separates her from her nursing infant for an entire day.
Linda prasies the female role of nurturing mother, but Mrs. Flint abandons this role by turning her house into a place of cruelty and violence – she also actively prevents other women, like the cook, from fulfilling maternal roles. While her actions explicitly impact her slaves, Linda will show how such behavior also causes moral degradation and impugns the character of families like the Flints.
Themes
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda once sees Dr. Flint tie up and whip a slave from his plantation who offended him by accusing him of being the father of his wife’s child; later, he sells husband and wife to a slave trader. Linda recalls another case in which a slave from a neighboring household is dying while giving birth to her master’s illegitimate child; her mistress stands over her and jeers like “an incarnate fiend,” telling her she deserves to die.
This is one of the most disturbing scenes of the narrative. Rather than feeling sympathy for the sexually abused slave or linked to her by shared motherhood, the mistress completely disregards their shared humanity. In turn, her behavior makes her emerge as inhuman, as Linda’s description of her as a “fiend” hints.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
The slave’s mother comforts her, saying she and the baby will soon be in Heaven, but the mistress says that “there is no such place for…her and her bastard.” The dying woman tells her mother not to react to these taunts, saying that God will take pity on her.
The mistress’s harsh, self-serving concept of Christianity contrasts with the dying slave’s sincere faith, and the dignity it gives her.
Themes
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
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