Traditionally, houses evoke security, family, and tranquility – but for Linda and those around her, this is often an empty promise. In the narrative, houses often fail to provide security to their inhabitants or even serve as the sites for corrupted family dynamics. As a child, Linda feels secure and happy in the home of her first mistress but that security is destroyed when the mistress bequeaths her to the Flints instead of freeing her on her death. The Flint household is the setting of Linda’s sexual persecution by Dr. Flint and her abuse at the hands of Mrs. Flint. It’s a trap rather than a refuge for her, and it also symbolizes the decay of family cohesion among the Flints themselves, who are completely self-serving and vindictive towards each other as well as to their slaves. Linda frequently invokes the uncomfortable household dynamics that arise due to the presence of illegitimate mixed-race children, who are both sources of marital dispute and victims of cruel abuse. Grandmother’s house is then a place of limited safety for Linda, who flees there after becoming pregnant and raises her children within its bounds. Yet even though this is a home with positive associations, it’s not secure: after the failed Nat Turner rebellion, white search parties tear the house apart and mock Grandmother for daring to own nice silverware and tablecloths. Moreover, when Linda is forced to hide in the crawlspace for seven years, even this house becomes a prison, emphasizing vulnerability to oppression rather than safety from it.
Linda’s fixation on houses that fail to protect their residents or that conceal degraded family dynamics argues that slavery prevents the possibility of domestic happiness and safety for everyone in the community, not just slaves. It’s important that Harriet Jacobs wrote in the mid-19th century, when the “cult of domesticity,” or emphasis on the importance of the home, was extremely popular. By using this rhetoric, she’s tapping into well-known tropes and universal values in order to argue against slavery, and to establish her own credibility as a writer. By the end of the narrative, Linda is happy to be free, and looks forward to one day establishing a home for her children. Her hopeful but tempered tone shows the advantages that freedom brings to domestic life, but warns that such advantages are only secure when slavery is abolished completely.
Houses and Homes Quotes in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
But to the slave mother New Year’s day comes laden with peculiar sorrows. She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the system that has brutalized her from her childhood; but she has a mother’s instincts, and is capable of a mother’s agonies.
He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my grandmother had instilled. He peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of…But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him … He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things.
The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him of his own household. Jealousy and hatred enter the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness.
But O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely! If slavery had been abolished I too could have married the man of my choice; I could have had a home shielded by the laws…
We knelt down together, with my child pressed to my heart, and my other arm round the faithful, loving old friend I was about to leave forever. On no other occasion has it ever been my lot to listen to so fervent a supplication for mercy and protection. It thrilled through my heart, and inspired me with trust in God.
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.