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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself Paperback – April 24, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897) was an American writer, who escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist speaker and reformer. Jacobs' single work, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 under the pseudonym "Linda Brent", was one of the first autobiographical narratives about the struggle for freedom by female slaves and an account of the sexual harassment and abuse they endured. The narrative was designed to appeal to middle class white Christian women in the North, focusing on the impact of slavery on women's chastity and sexual virtues. Christian women could perceive how slavery was a temptation to masculine lusts and vice as well as to womanly virtues. Jacobs criticized the religion of the Southern United States as being un-Christian and as emphasizing the value of money ("If I am going to hell, bury my money with me," says a particularly brutal and uneducated slaveholder). She described another slaveholder with, "He boasted the name and standing of a Christian, though Satan never had a truer follower." Jacobs argued that these men were not exceptions to the general rule. Much of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was devoted to the Jacobs's struggle to free her two children after she escaped. Before that, Harriet spent seven years hiding in a tiny space built into her grandmother's barn to see and hear the voices of her children. Jacobs changed the names of all characters in the novel, including her own, to conceal their true identities. The villainous slave owner "Dr. Flint" was based on Jacobs's former master, Dr. James Norcom. Despite the publisher's documents of authenticity, some critics attacked the narrative as based on false accounts. There was a reaction against the more horrific details of slave narratives, and some readers believed they could not be true.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Brown Books (April 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1613822928
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613822920
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donna Di Giacomo VINE VOICE on September 27, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
that slavery was such an integral part of the creation of the United States (even being protected by the Constitution for 20 years as a concession to the slave states - just so they would join the Union). Yeah, yeah, other civilizations had slaves, but Rome's heyday was almost 2,000 years before anyone knew or cared about land on this side of the globe. (Portugal, Spain, and England would take encyclopedias just to scratch the surface of and were the ones who ran with the idea that Africa was ripe for using human beings as cattle, with just a "little" help from the local tribal chiefs). So much for "progress" and learning from the past.

It's obvious that Harriet Jacobs did a very brave thing for her time and did a major favor for us here in the future: She not only told her story (like other former slaves) in order to put an end to the sin of slavery, but she gave detail to the suffering and humiliation slaves had to face every single day of their lives. She added another angle with her account of the sexual harassment she had to face from Dr. Norcum almost daily, and she wrote about other female slaves who had to endure his advances - and then be sold away when they bore his children.

It wasn't bad enough for female slaves to be subjected to sexual advances at such a young age by their masters/owners, but adding insult to injury was that they had to deal with the jealousy of their mistress (as if it was their fault their husbands were pigs). And, to add further stress, was the constant threat that their children (whether legitimate or illegitimate) could be sold at any time.

This whole book was an eye-opener for me, but one of the many parts that I found fascinating was when Harriet came to Philadelphia and heard church bells the first time here.
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Format: Paperback
By happenstance, I picked up this book for purchase on a drive from St. Louis to Kansas City. It was difficult to put it down. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion when the author very clearly depicts the cruelty treated to her and her family because of the hardship of slavery. This book reminded me much of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in that it tells the tales of the hardships of life for a black woman. This book, of course, is specific to life in slavery but it is also specific to the life as a WOMAN in slavery. While the physical brutality forced upon the black male slaves, this book very easily allows a person to see through the heart and mind of a woman in slavery and emotional and psychological pain she experiences, along with the physical abuse.

This book should be required reading for high school aged children. It would help a young mind and heart to personalize this atrocity that happened in our American history. Unlike the historical accounts of slavery, this book indicates that there were, in fact, some good and bad hearts on both sides of slavery and good white souls who harbored escaped slaves and treated their own slaves with loving kindness and even freed them. This book also communicates, on a personal level, how laws that we have as common everyday laws, were not applicable to slaves - slaves were not allowed to "own" much, were always subservient to the master even with the mistress gave different orders, were treated worse than animals, were not allowed to congregate for church unless certain people were present, had to have meals rationed each week... basically they had an entirely different set of rules to live by. These are not things easily understood when reading in a textbook.

If you haven't read this book, you should. It will humble you in ways unexplainable.
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Jacobs lends some powerful insights to the hardships of slaves and especially female slaves but in light of similar testimonials of other slaves and the circumstances and patronage under which she presented her story, I interpret some of her encounters as sensationalism for effect.
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Format: Paperback
This is a great historical document, written at the dawn of the American Civil War. Reading this narrative by someone who lived the life of slavery and could so eloquently describe her truth to us, even when read so many years later in a whole different world, is a revelation and a precious gift. The author was able to convey the evils of slavery, even as administered without the utmost brutality, giving the reader increased awareness and sensitivity. There has been much speculation on the veracity of this telling of her life and it has apparently been proven to be accurate. The only reservation I have, is that the vocabulary and writing skill seems very advanced for someone of the author's circumstance. I urge anyone who treasures freedom and is interested in the struggle for freedom for all to read this book.
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By Hoomie on September 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
Devastating and compelling and so beautifully written. This is one of those few books that I will label as 'must read.' Everyone should read this woman's story and try to understand the horrors of slavery. (The greatest horror being that slavery is far from over - it evolved into Jim Crow, and we see it ravaging communities today in the form of voter ID laws, stop and frisks, and incarceration rates, among many other things.)
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