In the book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the author Harriet Jacobs (also the main character in book), paints a very powerful, and emotion picture of what the institution of Slavery was like for the slave and master in America, and the toll that it took on the human soul. Before reading this book, I was given a list of questions to ponder on while reading. These questions ranged from, compare and contrast survival techniques used by two characters in the book, to was this work difficult to read and understand? After reading the book, I feel that I have a good grasp on the answer to the different questions, and will answer them now.
The two characters that I will compare and contrast their survival techniques are Harriet Jacobs, also known as Linda in the book, and her Uncle Benjamin. Linda once said that Benjamin had “a spirit too bold and daring for a slave” (p. 18). This is very evident in the technique Benjamin uses to survive while being a slave. During one event in the book, Benjamin’s master called for him, and he did not obey his master’s order quickly enough. When Benjamin finally came, “his master was angry, and began to punish him by whipping him” (p. 19). Benjamin and his master fought and Benjamin threw his master to the ground. At this time in our country it was illegal for a slave to put his hands on his master, and “that in court his word would not be taken against any white man’s” (p. 93). Benjamin did not care about any laws, because he felt like he should have the benefits of what a free man had during this time. Benjamin felt that he had every right to hit his master, because his master hit him first, and Benjamin was just trying to defend his self. Even if that meant he could be punished by death, Benjamin did not care, because he had too much pride, and also he wanted his freedom. This is where Linda and her Uncle differ. I am not saying, that Linda did not want her freedom, she did. Linda did not understand why she and her fellow brothers and sister had to be a slave. Linda also realizes that she could not solve her problems by getting in physical fights with her master. She knew that she needed to be more cunning than that. Linda knew that if she put her hands on her master, there was nothing anybody could do for her because she would be guilty by the definition of the law at the time. She knew that throwing her master to the ground, could get her in a lot of trouble, and was completely opposite of Benjamin in this regard. When Linda was physically punish by her master for the first time she did not hit him back. She sprung back to her feet and exclaimed, “you have struck me for answering you honestly. How I despise you!” (p. 36). Linda knew how to play the game. After she got hit, she kept that anger bottled up inside of her, and used it to motivate her. She realized that her master was not her friend and that he will always be the enemy. Another question that I was supposed to answer in this paper was how did men and women experience the institution of slavery differently from each other. The male slaves in the book were whipped more than the women. They also sent male slaves to jail for extended amounts of time. At one point in the book, Linda master sent Benjamin to jail for so long that the “long confinement had made his face too pale, his form too thin” (p. 23). I can not imagine being locked up in a jail and deprived of sunshine so long that my face turned pale. It had to be terrible for male slaves back then. With that being said, “slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women” (p. 66). Female slaves on top of being punished with a hard crack of a whip, they had to fear the master trying to rape them and that is something the men did not have to worry about. Linda said that her master “began to whisper foul words in my ear” (pg. 26), when she was only fifteen years old. Her master was trying to lay the foundation down, so when...
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