Concept of Womanhood in Harriets Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Topics: Slavery in the United States, Slavery, Black people Pages: 15 (5645 words) Published: February 25, 2011
1. Introduction
I have chosen this subject because of my personal interest in American female literature. Having read Anne Bradstreet gave me great pleasure, because I got an inside view of not just the big conquerer, but the woman whose is standing quietly at his side. Now I wanted to approach to another, very deep subject in American history. Writing about such an outstanding woman, fighting for her right as a human being, a woman, a mother, makes me feel pride – not as a white person, but as a woman.

1.1. The Author Harriet Jacobs and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself
I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation.[1]

Harriet Jacobs faced the challenge to write about a subject just a few of the potential readership wanted to hear, slavery and the sexual exploitation of women in her autobiographical narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,Written by Herself. Harriet, born as a slave in Edenton, South Carolina, realised to escape to the North of America. Years have passed and she was urged from friends to write down her own biography. As a fugitive slave and as a woman, she writes out of a social marginality and needed urgent help for editing her book. Just 16 out of 160 autobiogrpaphical narratives were written from women, and mostly from free black women.[2] It might have never been possible without the white female editor Lydia Maria Child. Her book was first published in Boston under the title The Deeper Wrong and one year later in London with the title I mentioned above. Although Harriet’s book was published at the very beginning of the Civil War, did she raise attention to that sensible subject. Her book was mostly read by people of Great Britain and by the time did it gain more and more attention in the United States. It has been held as a fictive novel for a long time because of her use of “[...] conventions of the sentimental literature to both relate to readers accustomed to such literature and to underscore the injustice of her situation.”[3], but Jean Fagan Yellin proved through extended research to be an authentic narration of her life. But that should not be the subject for further discussion. The editor published the book with an pseudomnymously author, Linda Brent. Therefore I will refer to Linda as the protagonist of the narrative and to Harriet as the woman behind the scenes. The other persons mentioned in that narrative are pseudonymously as well. The term incidents in the title evokes the thought, that she refers to just a small selection of her experiences, mixed with the narrations of other slaves in order to give a broad overview and a deep insight into the life and the feelings of slaves, women, mothers. Harriet used the convention of omission in the text very often. Maybe because she wanted to let the reader think and let the narrative reflect, maybe it has hurt her too much to write about in such a detail. It is for sure that she wanted to enlighten the reader and to make him sensible to peolpe, who have to carry such a heavy burden on their backs. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl leads the narration of Linda Brent from her childhood and the lost of both of her beloved parents, to the tortures of her master and mistress – the Flints – which leads her into the arms of a white man – Mr. Sands, wherefore she became the mother of two children – over to the escape from her master. This escape is scaled in different stages, leading her from an attic of a good female slaveholder to the seven-years imprisonment in the den of her grandmother’s house and to the tiny room on the boat who took her to...
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