Discipline, Restraint, and Self-Control as a Slave Woman

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In the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, discipline, restraint and self-control play a significant role in the life of slave woman Linda Brent. While there were restrictive qualities in her life of slavery, the productive qualities (such as Linda’s self restraint and discipline) may have been the key factor in her eventual escape from the horrible institution. In her early years, Linda was raised to hold her own moral values and for the first six years of her life she experienced a very happy childhood. At this young age, however, Linda learned that she was, in fact, a slave although she was clueless as to what that entailed. In chapter one she makes the remark that, “Though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be demanded of them at any moment;” (8) − this passage foreshadows her realizations of what a life in slavery demands and belittles a person to. Fortunately, because of her grounded upbringing Linda developed a strong sense of moral value and independence which enabled her to overcome future obstacles. Before her most horrid years, however, Linda’s first experience of slavery with her mother’s mistress was considered a happy one. She states that, “My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do her bidding, and proud to labor for her as much as my young years would permit” (10). This chapter’s significance is essential in recognizing that with Linda’s first mistress she was taught to read and spell, which is a rare privilege for slaves. With an unfortunate turn of events (the death of her mistress) however, Linda is placed into the hands of a new master, Dr. Flint. Here, readers start to get a sense of how Linda has developed mentally as a female and how her strong-willed nature is consistent throughout the memoir. She learns that the reality of slavery is brutal, especially depending on how cruel the master is. As Linda ages, she encounters great sufferings under the rule of Dr. Flint. It pains her to see her brother, William, endure his cruel punishments knowing that any effort to make their lives more bearable is helpless. Her only escape to temporary happiness is through frequent visits with her grandmother, who was once a slave as well. Although the visits with her grandmother provide temporary relief from her strenuous life, it cannot protect her from losing her desired feminine virtues. Dr. Flint’s continuous attempts to make Linda submit to him, in a sexual manner, corrupts her moral values and innocence. In these dreaded situations, Linda remains level-headed and does all she can to stay strong. Following this further, sexual harassment towards women in slavery was unfortunately extremely common. Through Linda’s accounts, readers can see how restrictive a life in slavery truly was. It was entirely dehumanizing towards enslaved women and did not allow them their rights to fulfill their fundamental needs. The sexual abuse and harassment by their white masters forced the women to lose their morals and dignity. They had no law that would legally protect them but rather prevented them from having anything remotely similar to a normal life. They could not marry the man of their choice, keep their desire for purity or even raise a family. If they were trapped in the unfortunate circumstance of bearing a child to her master, they still were not able to protect them from the institution of slavery. Subsequently, there were thousands of enslaved women who experienced the same rejected desires for purity and their basic human rights. However, Linda knew and accepted the fact that the law worked against them in protecting these rights. Although she accepted this way of life, her self-restraint allowed her to avoid submitting to Dr. Flint even if it was a difficult battle to bear. She explains, “I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the...
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