Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by: Harriet Jacobs

Linda Brent

An innocent young slave girl, Linda must grow up fast when she finds herself in the clutches of a morally corrupt master. She begins life with a secure attachment to her parents, who take excellent care of her for her first six years. They don’t tell her she is a slave, which enables her to develop a strong sense of self-worth that later allows her to overcome major obstacles. Linda is confident and spirited, and she never really accepts the fact that she is the property of another person. Although she is exposed to the most degrading treatment at the hands of Dr. Flint, she never loses her self-respect or her desire to have a normal home and family. She is devoted to her children and willing to endure great suffering for their sake.

Just as she refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the slave system, Linda totally rejects her master’s claim that she is his property, body and soul. She is an independent spirit, and Dr. Flint’s sexual harassment only intensifies her desire to control her own life. Linda is clever, rebellious, and strong-willed, and from the start, she lets Dr. Flint know that she will never submit to his advances. She enters into a battle of wills with him and at times even expresses a perverse satisfaction at tricking him or making him angry. Her independence also leads her to have an affair with Mr. Sands, largely to spite Flint and retain some control over her sexuality. Although she doesn’t love Mr. Sands and believes that it is wrong to have sex with him, she takes satisfaction in her ability to choose whom to sleep with. Similarly, when she hides in an attic crawl space for seven years, substituting a life of physical suffering over the relatively “easy” existence she would have had as Dr. Flint’s concubine, Linda once again expresses her strong desire to be psychologically and spiritually independent.

As Linda grows up, and particularly after she becomes a mother, her rebellious and independent nature is somewhat modulated. As a young girl, Linda dreams only of escaping slavery for a better life in the North. After becoming a mother, she still wants freedom, but she also feels deeply attached to her children, who are also Dr. Flint’s property. She is unwilling to leave them and worries about what will become of them if she runs away. Unlike some of the male characters in the book, she cannot simply sever all of her emotional ties and start over in the North. Most of Linda’s actions are directed by this essential emotional and moral conflict. She is torn between her independent nature and her maternal feelings, which urge her to sacrifice her own opportunity for freedom to save her children. In the end, motherhood wins out, although Linda’s bold spirit is never extinguished.


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