Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Ellen Character Analysis

Linda’s daughter and second child with Mr. Sands. As a young girl, Ellen is sent to New York to live with Mr. Sands’s cousin, Mrs. Hobbs. Although she’s supposed to go to school and live with the family, she’s actually treated like a servant and poorly fed and clothed. She proves a collected and loyal daughter, warning her mother when Dr. Flint is coming to the city and leaving the Hobbs family as soon as possible. Ellen also helps her mother overcome her shame at having conceived children out of wedlock; when Linda confesses the secret of her paternity, she calmly replies that she doesn’t care who her father is, as her love for her mother is unchanged. Ellen’s response helps her mother realize that she’s not responsible for the sexual abuse she endured as a teenager, and characterizes the bonds between mothers and children as more important than romantic relationships.

Ellen Quotes in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl quotes below are all either spoken by Ellen or refer to Ellen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl published in 2001.
Chapter 36 Quotes

I did not discover till years afterward that Mr. Thorne’s intemperance was not the only annoyance she suffered from…he had poured vile language into the ears of [Grandmother’s] innocent great-grandchild.

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker), Ellen, Mr. Thorne
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 39 Quotes

I thought that if he was my own father, he ought to love me. I was a little girl then, and didn’t know any better. But now I never think any thing about my father. All my love is for you.

Related Characters: Ellen (speaker), Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent, Mr. Sands
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage….The dream of my life is not yet realized. I do not sit with my children in a home of my own.

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker), Ellen, Benny
Related Symbols: Houses and Homes
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ellen Character Timeline in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The timeline below shows where the character Ellen appears in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter Fourteen: Another Link to Life
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
The children are christened Benjamin (Benny) and Ellen; Linda gives them the surname of her father, who derived it from his own father,... (full context)
Chapter Fifteen: Continued Persecutions
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...the plantation. Enraged, he tells her that Benny will be sent to the fields and Ellen will be sold as soon as possible. (full context)
Chapter Sixteen: Scenes at the Plantation
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda leaves the next morning, accompanied by Ellen but leaving Benny, who is sick, with Grandmother. At the plantation, she has to leave... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...slave children, while their mothers stand by powerless. She feels it would be better for Ellen to die than live like that. One day, Ellen sobs in the yard the entire... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
The next day, Linda sends Ellen back to Grandmother without asking permission. She doesn’t get in trouble because she’s been such... (full context)
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...home, surrounded by her family, again. She visits her parents’ graves and promises to save Ellen from the trials she’s endured. (full context)
Chapter Seventeen: The Flight
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Before leaving the house to hide with a friend, she looks over Benny and Ellen, who are sleeping. They are truly defenseless, with a mother who can’t protect them and... (full context)
Chapter Eighteen: Months of Peril
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...he seems to want revenge more than money. He throws William, Aunt Nancy, Benny, and Ellen into the city jail and tells Grandmother that she will never see them again until... (full context)
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
At some point Ellen gets measles and is taken to Dr. Flint’s house to recover, but she screams and... (full context)
Chapter Nineteen: The Children Sold
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...left town, but he actually stops a few miles away and releases William, Benny, and Ellen to Uncle Phillip. He seems to think that the deception is a good joke, and... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...moaning of children.” For a minute, she thinks she sees the shadows of Benny and Ellen on the floor, and she becomes convinced that something bad has happened. The next day,... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-One: The Loophole of Retreat
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...speculating that she’s in the free states. Dr. Flint often tries to bribe Benny and Ellen into divulging their mother’s whereabouts, but Ellen says nothing, and Benny tells him he thinks... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Five: Competition in Cunning
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...and promise that Dr. Flint will free her if she returns home peaceably. He promises Ellen, who has heard his blustering, that she will see her mother soon. Grandmother is terrified,... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Six: Important Era in My Brother’s Life
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
One afternoon, Linda hears Benny and Ellen asking Grandmother if they will ever see their mother again or live with her. Ellen... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Seven: New Destination for the Children
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Linda reassures Ellen that some day they will all live together again in the North. Mother and daughter... (full context)
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When the Flints find out that Ellen has been sent away, they are very disgruntled. Mrs. Flint says that Mr. Sands has... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Preparations for Escape
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...all the time dreaming of escape, worrying about recapture, and longing for her children. After Ellen leaves, she becomes especially impatient and distressed. Moreover, in the stormy weather she and her... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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...suspected she was hiding there and knew for sure once she spent the night with Ellen. He’s always tried to keep children from playing too near the shed and kept watch... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Two: The Meeting of Mother and Daughter
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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...Linda seeks out a friend from the south, who is going to help her find Ellen. (full context)
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...She’s shocked to find that the younger girl accompanying her, whom she barely recognizes, is Ellen. Mother and daughter embrace eagerly, but Linda is disturbed to see that Ellen looks shabby... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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Ellen has to run an errand for Mrs. Hobbs, but she tells her mother to come... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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...cordially invites Linda to the house, and she’s able to speak further with her daughter. Ellen says that she’s been treated well, but it’s obvious she’s fibbing and she’s anxious to... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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As Linda prepares to leave, Mrs. Hobbs tells her “coolly” that Mr. Sands has given Ellen to her daughter, as “a nice waiting maid when she grows up.” Linda doesn’t respond,... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Three: A Home Found
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Mrs. Bruce suggests that Ellen come to live at her house, but Linda is afraid to offend Mrs. Hobbs, who... (full context)
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...“sweet and bitter time.” When holding Mary, whom she loves, Linda recalls the infancy of Ellen and Benny. One day, looking out the window, she sees a man in a sailor’s... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Old Enemy Again
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Chattering away, Benny asks when Ellen is going to come live with them. He’s been to see her in Brooklyn on... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Six: The Hairbreadth Escape
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Returning to New York, Linda visits Ellen. She knows that Mrs. Hobbs’s Southern brother, Mr. Thorne, is visiting so she stays in... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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Ellen never complains about her situation, but Linda can tell she’s unhappy. Questioning her one day,... (full context)
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One Sunday when Linda goes to visit her daughter, Ellen reveals that she’s found a torn-up letter from Mr. Thorne to Dr. Flint, saying that... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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...to take her to Boston. Mrs. Hobbs, who feels guilty about her brother’s actions, lets Ellen return to her mother—albeit without any warm clothes. Seeing the girl’s sorry state, Mrs. Bruce... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Linda, William, and Ellen board a steamboat towards Boston. Normally, black passengers are not allowed to sit inside the... (full context)
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...than ever before—even better, she’s finally reunited with both her children. Telling Mrs. Hobbs that Ellen must stay with her and go to school, she sets up house with a friend... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Eight: Renewed Invitations to Go South
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As the ship approaches New York, Linda finds herself fearing her own country. She finds Ellen making strides in her education, but Benny absent. He had been apprenticed to learn a... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Confession
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After two years of living in Boston, William offers to pay for Ellen to attend boarding school. Linda hates to part with her, but knows it’s important that... (full context)
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The night before Ellen leaves, Linda begins to tell her how Dr. Flint had “driven [her] into a great... (full context)
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Some weeks after Ellen departs for school, Linda receives a letter from William inviting her to join him in... (full context)
Chapter Forty: The Fugitive Slave Law
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William decides to move to California and takes Benny with him. Ellen is flourishing at school; everyone is very kind to her, especially when they discover that... (full context)
Chapter Forty-One: Free At Last
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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Soon, Ellen convinces her mother to leave the city and the two travel to New England. Young... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
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...ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage.” She rejoices that Benny and Ellen are safe both from slaveholders in the South and “the white people of the north.”... (full context)