Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’ by Jacobs

In her book, ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl’, Harriet Jacobs writes “slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women” (Jacobs 64). As Linda in the book, the writer is saddened when it dawned on her that she was expecting a baby girl, and yet she was still a slave. Her heart went out to the unborn child because she was well aware of the untold misery that a slave girl underwent. Slaves were held against their will, starting from the time of their purchase, capture or birth. They were also denied the right to refuse work, receive compensation and leave. Few slaves could marry, have families or legally own property. Some however made money with the intention of buying their freedom and that of their families. As much as we talk of the slave trade in medieval times, it is still rife today in the form of human trafficking. This vice is responsible for introducing women and children into the sex trade, an industry that is far larger than drug trafficking. This writer concurs with Jacobs that indeed, slavery is more terrible for women, yet they were and still remain the easiest bait to this evil. In their suffering, they added value to their masters. Women have traits that predispose them to more affliction than men (Anonymous 1).

The 1600s witnessed a massive exodus of slaves from the African continent to America. These slaves provided cheap labor in large plantations owned by wealthy Americans. There were slaves in Europe, Asia, and Africa as well. Besides the field hands who worked in plantations, the house servants cooked and did laundry. On the other hand, there were the craft workers like blacksmiths and carpenters. Others worked at factories and construction sites. Misbehavior and disobedience to their masters and mistresses came with such forms of punishment as lashing. These were common burdens and sufferings to both sexes but women had problems peculiar to them (Chernow 19). To start with, women slaves underwent physical abuse. Jacobs tells of how she received blows from her master telling her that she had no control over who visited her grandmother’s house (Jacobs 66). Mrs. Wade, the neighbor, also exemplifies this physical torture when she asserts that lashing never ceased at her premises and that her chores started early in the day and ended late at night. “The barn was her particular place of torture. There she lashed slaves with the might of a man” (Jacobs 48).

Secondly, on the one hand, men were often punished by torture if not death. Some were mutilated or branded depending on the area they resided (Simkin 1). For instance, in Virginia, slaves were smoked while in Kentucky, house slaves would be treated by their mistresses as they wished with whatever object available (for example, knives, shovels, and chairs). Women on the other hand underwent torture unique to them. Emotionally, Linda underwent verbal curses from her master which actually made her unconscious just because she had a baby. Slave women also had their hair shaved.

Emotionally, a mother and child naturally have a bond; it is a mother’s pride to watch her child grow while she protects it. There was uncertainty in a slave mother’s world. Family relations were disrupted by frequent selling and transporting of members of a family. In particular, Linda was separated from her father at a tender age, and their neighbor Aggie actually witnessed all her children get sold to areas unknown to her and without hope of ever hearing from them. Linda feared for her children and the kind of master they would be subjected to. At one time, she confesses praying for death upon her boy as death was deemed much better than slavery (Jacobs 62).

The third and most traumatizing was the sexual abuse that a slave woman went through. She was her master’s property and he would do with her as he felt right. It is said that the slave girl lived in fear and that the foul talk of her master and his sons were her teachers. As a teenager, they bribed her with presents and if she declined to accept these, she would be whipped to coerce her into submitting to their demands (Jacobs 51). In the case of Linda, she was defiled at twelve despite her virtuous upbringing and self-respect. This came along with malevolent and suspicious mistresses who in turn further burdened the already injured subjects.

Despite their sufferings, women have a way of overcoming their burdens. They are willing to help each other and understand the suffering they face. With the assistance of Mrs. Bruce, Linda gained freedom. This is a testament that “The extraordinary achievements of black women in the nineteenth and twentieth century’s did not grow out of degradation but out of a legacy of courage, resourcefulness, initiative, and dignity that goes back to 1619”, (Hine 1), which explains the source of resistance for their burdens.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “Speaking for slave women” n.d. 2010. Web.

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press. 2004. Web.

Hine, C. Thompson, K. A shining Thread of Hope. New York: Broadway 2005. Web.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Dover Publications. Web.

Simkin, J “Slave Punishments”. Spartacus Educational. 1997. Web.