Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Review

“What would you be, if you had been born and brought up a slave, with generations of slaves for ancestors?” ~ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

To say this book is not an easy read is probably a gross understatement. But everything about this book made me think how different my life would have been if I had been born in a different period in history. As I turned each page, I lived a different life; I tried to completely immerse myself into the narrative and the life of Harriet Jacobs, a female slave. As I relived these incidents, emotional paralysis enveloped my heart. I felt frustration, anguish, misery, sadness.

Harriet Jacobs recounts with poignancy and candor her life as a slave in the United States in the early 1800s. The book was published in 1861, the Civil War overshadowing it’s important message and appeal to people in the Northern states to ally with abolitionists to end the brutal institution of slavery.

“Pity me, and pardon me, o virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. You never exhausted your ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a hated tyrant. You never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and trembled within hearing of his voice.”

How many things do we personally take for granted? Learning to read and write, deciding who to marry, where you will live, seeing your children grow up to marry and have families of their own. The decision of what to eat, wear, who to befriend; things we seemingly decide without a second thought, never doubting IF we have a right to do so. The freedom to decide and make personal choices were not available to slaves. Harriet shares with the reader about her first love, a black man who had purchased his freedom but was still a victim of slavery because he couldn’t marry the woman he loved, since Jacobs ‘master’ didn’t approve and wouldn’t allow the marriage. Another of many reasons for my heart to ache and hope to fade.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is not a work of fiction. Jacobs fight for her freedom (and her children’s) was long one and not easy in any respect. When an opportunity for freedom presented itself, Jacobs took the risk, but due to an injury, she was forced to return to turn back. Jacobs was forced to hide for seven years in a small attic compartment of a relative because the risk of fleeing again were even higher. I wonder if I would have had the moral character and strength to endure the suffering as Jacobs and other slaves experienced. There is much to learn from the past, so much we should cherish in our present and our future.

It is impossible for me to summarize what this book means. What a candid account of slavery, especially from the viewpoint of a woman.

“O, what days and nights of fear and sorrow that man caused me! Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered.”

What nonfiction books have you read recently that ripped your heart to pieces?

4 thoughts on “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Review

    • booksbythecup says:

      To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite. I read it again last year with some bookstagram buddies, some had never read it before. It’s definitely a book that makes your heart ache. I need to read Raisin in the Sun, I’ve been meaning to for a long time.

      Like

  1. Grab the Lapels says:

    One way in which Jacobs’s narrative different from Frederick Douglass’s (I’m comparing because they’re often assigned together in college) is that hers is a story with many instances of rape, which readers should be aware of, though slave narratives are basically one big content warning.

    Liked by 1 person

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