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Customer Review

150 of 152 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant, April 1, 2002
This review is from: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Signet Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 8, 2012 8:24:36 PM PST
Diane Noland says:
You have written so many details I feel as if I've almost read the whole book.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 16, 2013 5:34:16 AM PDT
NIA says:
i agree with diane it is detailed but these are the kind of details that do not necessarily take the surprise out of reading them yourself. unless you have never read a slave narrative or know little about the horrors of slavery, none of this is new. it is just an extraordinary slave story because she was able to accomplish so much in spite of the brutality she suffered under the institution. one problem i have with the review is that a white man in those times who took liberty with a slave was not A lover, he was a RAPIST. this is in reference to the line where reviewer explains that her brother escaped while traveling 'WITH HER LOVER" comment. all the women who had sex with their owners, overseers, or other white men who had their way, were rapists. black women had no power over their bodies, their children, their lives. they could say no but no meant nothing but a beating or worse.
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