Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by

Harriet Jacobs

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Houses and Homes Symbol Analysis

Houses and Homes Symbol Icon

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

The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl quotes below all refer to the symbol of Houses and Homes. 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 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker)
Related Symbols: Houses and Homes
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker), Dr. Flint
Related Symbols: Houses and Homes
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker)
Related Symbols: Houses and Homes
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

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…

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker)
Related Symbols: Houses and Homes
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 29 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Harriet Jacobs / Linda Brent (speaker), Grandmother, Benny
Related Symbols: Houses and Homes
Page Number: 129
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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Houses and Homes Symbol Timeline in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

The timeline below shows where the symbol Houses and Homes appears in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter One: Childhood
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...year, and Linda lives with her parents and her younger brother William in a “comfortable home,” unaware that she is a “piece of merchandise who can be taken away at any... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...deathbed that nothing bad will happen to her children. She takes Linda into her own house, giving her only light work to do and teaching her to read the Bible and... (full context)
Chapter Two: The New Master and Mistress
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Along with William, Linda moves to the house of Dr. Flint, Emily Flint’s father. Both children are resistant to their lot as slaves,... (full context)
Chapter Five: The Trials of Girlhood
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
During her first years at the Flint house, Linda is treated like a child, and sometimes allowed to share “indulgences” with the Flint... (full context)
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...to feel the humiliation of their position…many slaves feel it most acutely.” Everyone in the house knows what is happening to Linda, but no one can do anything against it. (full context)
Chapter Ten: A Perilous Passage in the Slave Girl’s Life
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
...plan to bring Linda under his will: he informs her that he’s building her a house of her own, outside the town. By this point many people are gossiping about his... (full context)
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
When Linda sees Dr. Flint actually start building the house, she knows she can exact revenge and gain some protection by becoming involved with another... (full context)
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...enraged to find that she’s “degraded” herself. But when Dr. Flint triumphantly tells Linda the house is finished, she takes pride in informing him that she’s having a child with another... (full context)
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Fearing Dr. Flint’s retribution now that she’s confessed, Linda goes to Grandmother’s house. Soon Mrs. Flint arrives, screaming at Linda and accusing her of having a child with... (full context)
Chapter Eleven: The New Tie to Life
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Linda goes home with Grandmother, who talks to Mr. Sands and extracts his promise to care for their... (full context)
Chapter Twelve: Fear of Insurrection
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...knows that terror and punishment is about to descend on them. She knows that the houses will be ransacked by “country bullies and the poor whites,” who hate to see black... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...furor, terrible crimes are committed against innocent people: women and children are whipped without pretext, houses are robbed or destroyed, and women are especially vulnerable to rape. (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
The next day, a band of white men “rudely” march into the house, turning over all the furniture and pawing through Grandmother’s possessions. They even open and eat... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Although the “captain” of the band threatens to burn the house and whip the inhabitants, they don’t suffer any material damages. However, as the night draws... (full context)
Chapter Fourteen: Another Link to Life
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Because of Mrs. Flint’s antipathy towards her, Linda is still living in Grandmother’s house. Dr. Flint frequently visits and scolds her for “lowering herself” by her involvement with Mr.... (full context)
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...her hair, in which she takes a lot of pride. He starts coming to the house every day to hurl insults at her; Grandmother tries to defend her, but only inflames... (full context)
Sexual Virtue and Sexual Abuse Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...terrible for women” than for men. Soon after her labor, Dr. Flint arrives at the house, commanding Linda to stand before him and insulting her until she faints at his feet.... (full context)
Chapter Fifteen: Continued Persecutions
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...day is spending the night with Linda’s family before leaving. Dr. Flint arrives at the house and orders her away, but she’s no longer his slave and she ignores him, acting... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...but resumes his visits in the spring, becoming enraged and jealous any time she’s not home when he arrives. He tries to bribe Linda, telling her that her children can be... (full context)
Chapter Sixteen: Scenes at the Plantation
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
After six weeks the house is ready for the new bride, and Linda receives permission to spend that Sunday with... (full context)
Chapter Seventeen: The Flight
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...for the family to go to sleep and sneaks out a window, rushing towards Grandmother’s house. When she gets there, she finds a family friend and explains the situation; the friend... (full context)
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... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...Linda’s whereabouts; Dr. Flint is enraged to hear about her escape and searches Grandmother’s entire house, as well as every ship heading north. Linda wants to send Grandmother a message, but... (full context)
Chapter Eighteen: Months of Peril
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...in this time of crisis. The woman says that she will hide Linda in her house until there’s a possibility of sending her north, but that her name must never be... (full context)
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...specified night her friend Betty, the white woman’s cook, comes to collect her. In the house, she’s given a small attic room; only Betty and the mistress will know about her... (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 cries so much while she’s there that Mrs. Flint... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...alarm. Another day, Linda is even more frightened to hear Dr. Flint’s voice in the house while she’s sitting in the attic. She imagines that he’s searching the house and is... (full context)
Chapter Nineteen: The Children Sold
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
William and the children return to Grandmother’s house, where the family has a clandestine but joyous celebration, giving thanks to God. Mr. Sands... (full context)
Chapter Twenty: New Perils
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...day, ostensibly talking to herself, so Linda can stay updated. Dr. Flint has all the houses in town searched, even the one in which Linda is hiding. Even after Uncle Phillip... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-One: The Loophole of Retreat
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Outside Grandmother’s house is a small shed, which has a tiny garret between the joists and the pointed... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Candidate for Congress
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...night before he leaves, Linda descends stiffly into the shed. Mr. Sands stops at the house briefly to see the children and, taking a risk, Linda calls out from the shed.... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Five: Competition in Cunning
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
When Dr. Flint receives the letter, he comes to Grandmother’s house in triumph. He sees this as an opportunity to lure Linda south again, and says... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Seven: New Destination for the Children
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...the father, but his wife is understanding, and asks to see the children at their house. (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Aunt Nancy
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Aunt Nancy is in charge of the Flint house. Although she behaves meekly, she always encourages Linda to escape and save her children, frequently... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
...living in the shed, Aunt Nancy becomes deathly ill and Grandmother returns to the Flint house to nurse her last daughter. Even the Flints are touched by the obvious bond between... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Preparations for Escape
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One night, Peter arrives at the house and tells Linda that he’s found a way for her to escape to the North... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-One: Incidents in Philadelphia
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Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...to travel through such a large and busy city. Mrs. Durham welcomes her into her home and impresses Linda with her high level of education and refined manner. Linda envies her... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Two: The Meeting of Mother and Daughter
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Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
...run an errand for Mrs. Hobbs, but she tells her mother to come to the house the next day. In the morning Linda writes to Mrs. Hobbs, wondering how to present... (full context)
The Dehumanizing Effects of Slavery Theme Icon
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Mrs. Hobbs cordially invites Linda to the house, and she’s able to speak further with her daughter. Ellen says that she’s been treated... (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 could easily apprise Dr. Flint of... (full context)
Chapter Thirty-Six: The Hairbreadth Escape
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...Mrs. Hobbs that Ellen must stay with her and go to school, she sets up house with a friend and works as a seamstress throughout the winter. (full context)
Chapter Forty: The Fugitive Slave Law
Motherhood and Family Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
...rather pay a fine or go to prison rather than have Linda “torn from my house.” Linda goes to New England, where she stays briefly with a senator who knows Mrs.... (full context)