Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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Struggle, desperation, perseverance; these themes and more seem to be the central thesis of Harriet Jacobs' novel Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Based around the personal struggles of a slave's individual quest for freedom, this novel also details the incidents and lives of those whom she comes into contact with. The series of events that transpire over the course of the main character, Linda's, life as a slave define for herself and her audience not only what slavery means, but also what freedom means.

Perhaps the most persistent and obvious subject matter laced throughout the novel is that of survival techniques. The requirements that the average slave must achieve in order to survive daily in their own life is drastic for the most part. Two characters that exemplify very obvious survival techniques are the main character Linda and her maternal grandmother. Linda's grandmother, though mentioned briefly in the novel's beginning, has a very important role in the novel as a whole as she appears later to help Linda in her own personal quest. She is a locally famous baker known for her crackers, and she used this to earn quite a decent sum of money and the promise of her freedom upon her mistress' death. However, being deceived by her mistress, she is put on the auctioning block but rescued by her mistress' sister and granted her freedom. Thus, her struggle was not in vain.

Linda's grandmother had only one goal in mind for achieving her goals of freedom: secure the means to free her family as well. However, after granted her freedom it is only a bittersweet victory over injustice for her family is still enslaved. Thus, throughout the course of the novel, she goes by any means necessary to free the remainder of her family by doing such things as securing Linda specific, safe hiding places while she escapes the clutches of her master; risking her own life hiding Linda in her attic; and assisting in the safety of her great-grandchildren, Linda's children.

Then there is Linda who's initial struggle for freedom didn't begin until later in her childhood and into her early teenage years. Her first survival technique was to resist the advances of her owner, Mr. Flint. Soon, Linda engages in sexual relations with Mr. Sands in order to try to triumph over Mr. Flint, especially when she discovers she is pregnant. After bearing Mr. Sands two children, Linda decides to try to escape into freedom. Upon doing so, she risks her life and the lives of those of others to reach that seemingly unattainable goal. For the majority of her time spent in hiding, Linda is unable to see her children out of fear that she may somehow be discovered if she comes out of hiding to spend time with them. Her only comfort in this matter is knowing that they are safe and being cared for. As the novel progresses and Linda begins to fight harder and harder for her freedom, the single underlying theme that is present in her survival techniques is to overcome.

Though Linda and her grandmother seem to have very different stories in their quests for freedom, there is one major similarity that binds the two women together: their desire to keep their family in tact. When Linda's grandmother was granted her freedom, she was heartbroken in the knowledge of the fact that although she was given the gift of freedom, her family still had to endure the harsh treatment that went hand in hand with slavery. Thus, she dedicated herself to ensuring that her family would be protected and eventually free. The case is also true with Linda. The primary purpose of Linda's quest was not simply for her own personal freedom, but for the freedom of her children and brother as well. While she was in hiding in the south, her main concern was that her children could be kept safe and she delighted in the small pleasure of at least being able to see them from afar while hiding in her grandmother's attic. However, when they were separated from her and from...
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