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Harriet Jacobs

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Jamonte Wyatt Beth Slutsky 12/4/14

Harriet Jacobs a former slave and author of Incidents in the life of a slave girl began working on her autobiography while she lived in Rochester, New York in the year 1853. It takes Jacobs five years to finish writing the accounts of her life, but when she finishes she tells a completely different story from those that were written from the male perspective, where narratives focused mainly on the physical abuse of slavery. Jacobs tells the story of “Linda Brent” a slave who endures the sexual advances of her master, the hatred of her master’s wife, the loss of her children, and the everlasting threat of death. “Slavery [was] terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own”.1 Slave masters could beat, pressure, rape, impregnate, sell, and or kill their female slaves and no one would bat an eye, that is the threat that female slaves lived with every day of their lives. The access and power that slave owners had over the sexual lives of their slaves damaged the essence of family life of both black and white.

The power that slave owners had over their slaves sexual lives hindered slaves from making and maintaining meaningful connections. This control that slave owners had over their slaves often affected the relationship between men and women. The power that Dr. Flint had over Linda’s sexual life illustrates this point when she is forbidden from marrying the free carpenter that she had grown to care for. Dr. Flint who was very displeased with Linda decision to tie the knot with a free man, forbade her from speaking to him or else he would “shoot him like he would a dog”2 in the name of teaching Linda a lesson about “marriage and free niggers”.3 When Linda talks to her betrothed she tells him to “go to the free states”4 and “entreated him not to come back”.5 Linda’s love life was not her own, it belonged to her vile pursuer Dr. Flint who had an extensive control over her sexual life.

The authority that slave masters had over their slaves sexual lives of their slaves directly affected the relationship between slave women and slave owners. Some slave owners would harass, bother, and pursue their slaves until they agreed to enter into a sexual relationship. Linda’s master would frequently arrange private meetings with Linda to harass her into submitting to him, like the time she was “called to carry a pair of scissors to his room”6. Linda who was relentlessly pursued by Dr. Flint describes the pursuit like an “animal stalking its prey”.7 When Dr. Flint does not get his way he becomes violent towards Linda. When Linda requested to marry a free black man Dr. Flint had stuck Linda when she stated that her betrothed would not “love her if he believed her not to be a virtuous women”8. When Dr. Flint discovered that Linda was to bear her second child he cut her hair “close to her head” 9and when she “replied to his abuse”10 he struck her and “pitched her down stairs in a fit of passion”11. To Linda dying seemed like an appropriate course of action she often wished that Dr. Flint would just kill her and end her misery.

The influence that slave owners had over their slave’s sexual lives not only prohibited slaves from maintain meaningful connections, but also hurt the connections that slave owners had with their wives. Slave owning women often felt as though their “marriage vows were desecrated and their dignity insulted”12 when they became aware of their husband’s indiscretions and pursuits with their female slaves. The wives of slave owners would become jealous of the care that their slaves were receiving from their husbands. Pursued slave women are subjected to cruelty by their mistresses in their jealous rage. Even though she was subjected to the cruelty of her mistress, Linda actually felt sorry for Mrs. Flint because she saw how slavery was affecting her marriage. Linda saw how Mrs. Flint’s “husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness [paid] no regard to his marriage vows”.13 The power that slave owners had over their female slaves made it impossible for them to have a wonderful relationship with their wives.

Slavery destroyed homes because it put men in positions of absolute power over their female slaves. The power that slave owning men had over their female slaves made it challenging for slaves to make and maintain meaningful connections. That absolute power also damaged the connection between the slave owner and his family. Female slaves were subjected to slavery of a different kind, they endured so much pain and suffering, but with her strength and determination Linda Brent is able to maintain a meaningful connection with her children when they are reunited at the end of the story. Even with all the odds against her, Linda got a happy ending, but many slaves did not have this type of ending to their story, many of them were born into the cruelty of slavery and many died at the oppressive force that was slavery.

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