Harriet Jacob’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” Essay
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In this paper I argue that slavery is an essential part of life and, as such, should be cared for to ensure the continuation of the lives of the slaves so that they serve their purpose. Slavery is referred to as an “unhappy condition”, one that should be relieved and which can only be relieved by the enslaved. Harriet Jacob’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” reveals the story of a slave girl and her misfortunes through out her life.
The writing is among the feminist literature narrating the humiliations and sufferings of black slave females. Slave Black women didn’t have any such protection to voice their rights against their white masters. They were considered as “property” of their masters. And those masters have full authority over their female slaves to rape them at any time for the gain of sexual desire, for having stock of more slave children and for keeping such slaves below standards and disdain them.
Therefore, there wasn’t any law that would apply to Linda’s case.
In that era, woman, in general, were subject to man’s superiority and specifically slave woman were the victim of their masters, even in the enactment of law she had no right to voice her opinions, likes, dislikes or to live her life according to her own wishes. She was subject to any type of violent and abusive behavior by her masters. Lack of protection to their rights by law enforcement gave much bravery and authority to white males over their female slaves. Such deficiencies in law at that time surrounded the female slaves with fetters and disabilities, her very basic and natural rights were unguarded, and her liberty was unacknowledged.
She was not allowed to process her separate interest. Not realizing the existence of these slave women as an individual or their own, the law gave her no independent possession. Law being supportive for the supremacy of white masters, and black female slaves were the victim of sexual assault, abusive, violent and unjust attitude. It was the law of the strongest. Though, abusing slaves were not considered as good and there was a universal disdain regarding this issue, no one was willing to help those helpless females against their sexual assault. There was wide spread use of female slaves as sex without any prohibition.
Everyone was afraid of helping such women because no one wanted to go against slaveholders who were very rich and held much authority at that time. Most of the blacks were dependent on these slaveholders, and majority of them were proprietors and nurturing most of the Black slaves’ family for labor. Other poor whites were dependent on agriculture and feared to loose their property if they would be of any help to Black female slaves. Therefore, no one dared to voice against such slave owners, even including the family members of the female slave would remain quiet.
However, there was general opinion among white females that the abuse of Black slaves was acceptable and that males and white masters are the dominant gender. Most white women were also quiet because not only that they thought slavery was an acceptable thing but they were receiving a lot benefits like money, food and free labor. Daughters or wives were solely dependent on their fathers and husbands. To voice against them meant to deprive themselves of all those benefits they were receiving. To help slave women for their sexual and autonomic identity was to worsen the situation prevailing at that time.
The story is essentially a moral code for the slave owners as to how to properly care for the slaves and their overseers. Initially the slaves are spoken of as though they are children who need to be watched over for their own safety and discipline. Slave’s behavior is seen as something unchangeably infantile, no amount of education on morals will change their behavior and they will always succumb to the temptations of thievery and malice toward their masters. It is not a function of the desire to be free, rather it is a function of their immature nature in the eyes of the masters and something to be controlled.
These masters viewed themselves as benevolent, as though they were doing a service to the slaves in their charge by taking charge of their lives and keeping their souls out of the trouble to which they would be tempted. The care taken of the slaves is only so that they will be comfortable enough to continue to work and reproduce, not out of care for them as humans. To care for them as humans would require thinking of them as such, doing so would bring up the idea that as humans they deserve the freedom that the masters enjoyed. Masters of the slaves expect obedience and respect from their slaves.
However, in return masters must also show their good attitude towards their slaves. They must be honest and truthful with their slaves. Slaves are after all humans who need to be cared off. The way masters will treat their slaves, the same they will get in return. Masters should show firmness and kindness towards their slaves to get their trust. And they must control their temper when dealing with them. In addition, slaves should be given their complete food and diet to keep them healthy and fulfill their needs of the daily work.
It is clear, however, that the masters view their slaves as nothing higher than any farm animal. Something to be taken care of for its usefulness, to be cared for so that it will serve its purpose without trouble in the same category as a horse or a cow. Slavery is understood by the slaves to be an oppressive system inflicted by one group of humans upon another, and oppression of any type should not be tolerated. Freedom is a God-given right to all humans and to voluntarily submit to having that freedom taken away is an abomination against God, an enormous sin.
Garnet, freed men and slaves believed that slavery set all the laws given by God aside and caused the slaves to make reverence to their masters before God and to submit themselves other than to Him, which is against the first commandment of their Christian belief. This made it necessary to revolt against slavery and endeavor for freedom in any way, even if it meant death because death itself was preferable to oppression. They were willing to sacrifice their lives rather than live as slaves, treated no better than animals rather than with the respect of men.
What is most interesting about the story is that it is not an incitement to violence, rather it is an order for those enslaved to demand their freedom. If they were to recognize that their numbers made such a demand possible without violence there could be some resolution to slavery without bloodshed. There is clearly the awareness that a peaceful end to slavery would not be possible, but at least the idea was put forth that it should be considered first.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the life of a slave girl.