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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a book that was published in 1861 by a former Harriet Jacobs, using the pen name "Linda Brent." It chronicles the experiences of Harriet Jacobs as a slave, and the various humiliations she had to endure in that unhappy state, and especially the abuse that a young woman must face while still on the cusp of girlhood. The book is not only a chronicle of the struggle between owners and slaves but between men and women.

Customer Reviews:

  • This is a phenomenal story
    Harriet Jacobs' tells her story with so much sincerity and intelligence that I was effortlessly drawn into the complicated world of a 19th century mulatto slave woman. Imagine hiding for seven years in a dank dungeon of a room, hoping that this act would procure your children's emancipation. Would you? This is one of the finest autobiographies I have ever read, and I recommend it without qualification....more info
  • slavery: the reality
    This is the book that brought home a dimension of slavery to me that I had never understood: the psychological repercussions of someone presuming that they can own someone else. Perhaps it had to be written by a woman, who was regarded as the sexual property of a horrible man.

    The story of how she escapes and frustrates her "owner" is indeed enthralling, a triumph of human will in the worst adversity. She hid under the slanted roof of her mothers house for years, permanently injuring her back and watching he children grow up from afar. It is such a moving story that I imagined turning it into a play, with the narrator reminising of her life while hidden in that cramped space.

    As this is a memoire, the characters in it are very very real, all too human and without the black-and-white quality of too many novels on this bizarre twist of American history. While the writing style is so superb that it had to have been edited by an expert writer, the story and voice are so vivid that it must be real.

    I have given this book to literally dozens of friends, and almost to a one they have marvelled at the depth of the story. This is the best and most complete account of an aberration in American history of which we all must bear some sense of responsibilty.

    Get this: it cannot disappoint....more info

  • Unexpected
    I had no idea that this book would be as compelling as it was. Really, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I bought it because it was required reading for a class, but ended up liking it... Who knew?...more info
  • Great!
    Intended to convince northerners -- particularly women -- of the rankness of Slavery, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl presents a powerful autobiography and convincing writing that reads like a gripping novel but is organized and argued like an essay.

    Incidents follows the "true story" (its authenticity is doubted in some places) of Linda [Jacobs uses a pseudonym] who is born into the shackles of slavery and yearns for freedom. She lives with a depraved slave master who dehumanizes her, and a mistress who mistreats her. As the novel progresses, Linda becomes increasingly starved of freedom and resolves to escape, but Linda finds that even escaping presents its problems.

    But Incidents is more than just a gripping narration of one woman's crusade for freedom, and is rather an organized attack on Slavery, intended to convince even the most apathetic of northerners. And in this too, Incidents succeeds. The writing is clear, and Jacobs' use of rhetorical strategy to preserve integrity is astonishing.

    Well written, convincing, entertaining, Incidents is an amazing book....more info

  • All-time Favorite
    I read this book every year. I use it as an inspiration book. It makes me remember that hardships can be conquered not with evil doing, but by sheer will power. If a person who has nothing can make something out of her life, then a person that has a little or more can conquer the world.

    She shows that mothers should be self-sacrificing for their children and not for themselves, and they will reep the rewards....more info

  • Poignant
    This autobiographical condemnation of the south's Peculiar Institution puts a face on the suffering of the enslaved. American history is full of accounts of slavery which tend to broad overviews of the institution, whereas this book is written by an escaped slave who does not flinch at sharing every detail of her miserable life. Unlike other narratives which distorted the slave's voice through the perspective of the interviewers/authors who were notorious for exaggerating the uneducated slaves' broken english, this book is largely Ms. Jacobs' own words. She was taught to read and write as a child by a kind mistress, so she was able to put her thoughts on paper with clarity that surprised many. Ms. Jacobs had an editor, but this book seems to be her unfiltered view of the world.

    It is one thing to hear about how slaveholders took liberties with female slaves, it is quite another to read in stark detail about women being commanded to lay down in fields, young girls being seduced and impregnated and their offspring sold to rid the slaveholder of the evidence of his licentiousness. The author talks about jealous white women, enraged by their husbands' behavior, taking it out on the hapless slaves. The white women were seen as ladies, delicate creatures prone to fainting spells and hissy fits whereas the Black women were beasts of burden, objects of lust and contempt simultaneously. Some slave women resisted these lustful swine and were beaten badly because of it. It was quite a conundrum. To be sure, white women suffered under this disgusting system too, though not to the same degree as the female slaves who had no one to protect them and their virtue. Even the notion of a slave having virtue is mocked. The author rejected the slaveholder's advances and dared to hope that she would be allowed to marry a free black man who loved and respected her. Not only was she not allowed to marry him, she was forbidden to see him or speak to him again.

    The author shows us the depth of a mother's love as she suffers mightily to see that her children are not also brought under the yoke of slavery. Though she was able to elude her odious master, she does take up with some other white man in hopes that he would be able to buy her freedom. Her "owner" refuses to sell her and tells her that she and her children are the property of his minor daughter. Her lover seems kind enough as he claims his children and offers to give them his name, and he did eventually buy them, though he failed to emancipate them to spare them from a life of forced servitude. Ms. Jacobs noted that slavery taught her not to trust the promises of white men. Having lived in town most of her life, Ms. Jacobs is sent to the plantation of her master's cruel son to broken in after she continues to refuses his sexual advances. She is resigned to this fate until she learns that her children -- who were never treated like slaves -- were to be brought to the plantation also. It is then that she takes flight.

    After enduring 7-years of confinement in cramped quarters under the roof of her grandmother's house, the author escapes to the North which is not quite the haven she imagined. Still, it is better than the south, and she makes friends who buy her freedom leaving her both relieved and bitter that she is still seen as property to be bought and sold like livestock. In New York Ms. Jacobs is reunited with her children and a beloved brother who'd escaped a few years ago while accompanying his master -- her former lover -- to the free states.

    There is no fairytale ending to this story because the author endures plenty of abuse and uncertainty even after she makes it to the North. She is hunted down by the relentless slaveowners who were aided by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and "The bloodhounds of the North." This is a wrenching account of this shameful period of American history, and should be required reading for all....more info

  • Get ready to cry!
    This is the most touching story I have ever read, I cried more than once. It brings to life what slaves went through in the south, and the terrible injustice dumped on the African because of color. I read this book to get an idea what slavery would be like in its heyday, well this book gave it to me. The surprise was I became touched deeply by the suffering of this magnificent woman. Should be required reading in schools so our children can understand what our country did to its own Citizens....more info
  • Very Valuable
    I am a slow to moderate reader, but read this in 3 days.

    Jacobs compiled something of which I did know existed, a real first hand account of slavery. She depicts the plight of her life in North Carolina, and also that of fellow slaves.

    The depictions of the owners shows some to be generous and others to be horrible, such as when her mistress makes a point to spit in all the dinner pots when they are empty as a means to detract the slaves from scraping anything of them together to eat themselves. When I first read this I was thinking, 'what's a little spit to a hungry malnourished person?' but to think of the contrast of Southern gentility with the effort this horrible bitch put into dragging out the most horrendous mucous she could just to detract another that she claimed from nourishment is beyond me.

    Furthermore, there is another scene where Jacobs' aunt passes away, and the mistress, whom the aunt raised and raised the children of, does not know what she will do without her sleeping outside her door any longer. The inhumanity and the lengths that happened over 3 generations of ownership is a must know for all Americans.

    I recommend this book highly and hope that this review does bring it into new hands....more info
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: This book is diffficult to read because of the horrible reminders of
    the wretched life of American slaves. The book is so
    well written, beautiful prose, detailed descriptions
    of rememberances that I am sure were difficult to
    relive. I highly recommend this wonderful book to any
    one....more info
  • Compelling Account, Easily Read
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl / 0-674-44746-8

    It is amusing to note that Jacobs' autobiography was published just prior to Stowe's famous Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe's work, for all it's virtues, is (to modern eyes, at least) painfully didactic, frequently breaking the narrative to tell the reader what they are meant to take from a scene. Jacobs' Incidents, however, is written freely and easily, relating the salient points of her life, rarely breaking narrative to tell the reader what to think. It is merely presented, as is, and is immensely more readable than other contemporary works. Unfortunately, Jacobs' work was passed over as too salacious - she actually includes men in her novel, and not all her encounters are strictly 'forced', in the sense that some liaisons are contracted for convenience and safety, if not always for love.

    Amusingly, these "flaws" in Jacobs' character make her narrative that more interesting and insightful to read. It is relevant and worth knowing that slaves sometimes felt obligated to please certain men in order to secure safety or basic necessities. Jacobs determination to survive and thrive within the system that oppresses her causes us to admire her and to enjoy her narrative as we hope for some kind of happiness and success in her life of few options, none of them good. If you have any interest at all in slavery or the American Civil War, I highly recommend this narrative....more info
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: This book is diffficult to read because of the horrible reminders of
    the wretched life of American slaves. The book is so
    well written, beautiful prose, detailed descriptions
    of rememberances that I am sure were difficult to
    relive. I highly recommend this wonderful book to any
    one....more info
  • Captivating, Monette in Weldon, NC
    This memoir was absolutely enthralling. And yet, I am left with oxymoronic feelings. Reading about the horrors of slavery through the experiences of this slave girl was interesting-as these type of details should be told. At the same time, it was like looking at an accident-what you experienced was imprinted on your mind in an incredibly horrid way. In all the story was extraordinary and despite my feelings, theses types of truths must be shared far more often in this venue and in our national curricula as well....more info
  • Informative and Moving. Authentic Voice
    Harriet Jacobs book, like Frederic Douglass Narrative of the Life of a Slave, is a moving and enlightening reading experience that helps us understand the horrors of slavery. Jacobs is a brave woman and she informs us with honest voice of the truth of American history. We need to read such books to truly understand our African American sisters and brothers. These first hand accounts are invaluable personal histories, far more moving than an polemic or dry social studies book. I recommend that all teachers offer such reading to their students far and wide. These are the truths that must be shared for humanity to triumph. Daniela Gioseffi, Professor of Multicultural Literature, Author of ON PREJUDICE: A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE (Anchor/Doubleday, 1993.)...more info
  • An Important Perspective on Slavery
    Often taught along side Frederick Douglass's Narritive of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl offers an important incite into the abuses that female slaves faced. While Douglass's narrative stresses house slavery emasculated male slaves, Jacbos shows how slavery robbed female slaves of their womanhood. Jacobs' alter-ego, Linda Brent, was never physically beaten, like Douglass; the horrors of slavery for her were sexual horrors. Linda must try to ward of the sexual advances of her master while simultaneously dealing with the sexual jealously of her mistress.

    This text is important because it shows how the experience of slavery was gendered and how the experience of womanhood was different for people in different classes. Linda's mother, grandmother, and first mistress all believed in the cult of true womanhood, a prevelant ideology in mid-nineteenth century America that said that women should be "pure, pious, domestic and submissive." Linda was raised with these ideas, but failed to live up to them. While Linda feels shameful and guilty for failing to live up to the standards of the cult of true womanhood, she realizes that slave women cannot be judged by the same standards as middle-class white women because their cultural context is so different. This is, perhaps, the most radical and important message in Jacobs' text.

    From the time that the narrative was published (anonymously) until the 1980s, the authenticity of Jacobs' narrative has been called into question. For over 100 years, scholars and historians assumed that the narrative was false, either ghost written by the editor (Lydia Maria Child) or completely written by her without a grain of truth. Thanks to the work of historian Jean Fagan Yellin, we now know that the narrative was written by Jacobs herself and that all the major events in the narrative are true. There is no reason why this book shouldn't be read as an authentic slave narrative. ...more info
  • Unexpected turn of events
    It's obvious the difficulty slaves endured. Ironic, but she endures a great deal more than most. How her story ends is not predictable. ...more info
  • Heartbreaking and eye-opening
    When my history professor told us that we'd be reading this book and writing a paper over it I was less than excited. I thought it was going to be just another boring History text. To my surpise and delight I was hooked after only a few pages.

    This true story of Harriet Jacobs, a 19th century slave, is absolutely mind-blowing. Ms. Jacobs spent 7 years of her life living in what was literally a wooden box in the rafters of her grandmother's shed. She was waiting for the perfect moment to escape to the North and bring her children out of slavery. From her perch in the shed she could look out onto the street and watch her children play and hear them talk about how much they missed their mother and wished to see her again (they had no idea she was in hiding). Jacobs even went so far as to send letters to her vicious master to make him believe that she was really in the Northern states.

    Sure everyone learns about slavery in school, but we only get the narrow and highly shortened version of what it was to live in slavery. This book is an emotional account of slavery in all its brutality and what it was like to live in fear every moment of every day. Jacobs is a perfect portrait of an unbreakable spirit....more info

  • Another of the most important books you'll ever read...
    Jacobs was a slave-- and endured unbearable harships to escape the unwanted "romantic" attentions of her owner and eventually slavery altogether. Her text, written as an autobiography to prove, in part, that an African American woman could be just as moral and brave as the target audience of white women who were ignoring the slave system as something they had nothing to do with, is a classic of African American literature. The story is interesting, well-written and sometimes as tense as any dramatic nail-biter. This is a historical document as much as it is a good read. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to know about the US troubled relationship with race, still today and in our past....more info