Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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In "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl", Harriet Jacobs writes, "Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women" (64). Jacobs' work shows the evils of slavery as being worse in a woman's case by the gender. Jacobs elucidates the disparity between societal dictates of what the proper roles were for Nineteenth century women and the manner that slavery prevented a woman from fulfilling these roles. The book illustrates the double standard of for white women versus black women. Harriet Jacobs serves as an example of the female slave's desire to maintain the prescribed virtues but how her circumstances often prevented her from practicing. Expectations of the women of the era resided in four arenas: piety, purity, domesticity and obedience. The conditions that the female slave lived in were opposed to the standards and virtues set by the society. It resulted in the female slave being refused what was considered the identity of womanhood. It was another manner in which slavery attempted to eliminate the slaves' value of themselves. Jacobs continually struggled with this. Her belief in the ideas of piety, purity, domesticity and is highlighted in her admiration of one rare, caring mistress. Piety was one of the subscribed to qualities. However, in order for one to be pious and obtain religious insight, it would be necessary to read the Bible. This would be an obstacle for the overwhelming majority of slave women as illiteracy was prevalent, Jacobs wrote,." was contrary to the law; and that slaves were whipped and imprisoned for teaching each other to read" (61). As Jacobs knew how to read and write, illiteracy was not an impediment. Yet, slaves were forbidden to meet in their own churches, another catch for the female slave attempting to keep the virtue of piety. Jacobs writes of the difficulties the slaves had in obtaining religious instruction after the Nat Turner insurrection, "The slaves begged the privilege of again...
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