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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs

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full title ·  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

author · Harriet Jacobs (pen name Linda Brent)

type of work · Slave narrative

genre · Women’s autobiography, African-American autobiography, didactic literature

language · English

time and place written · 1850s, New York and Boston

date of first publication · 1861

publisher · Harriet Jacobs

narrator · Linda Brent

point of view · Linda Brent narrates her life story in the first person.

tone · Passionate, outraged, defiant, sarcastic, sentimental

tense · Past

setting (time) · 1820s–1840s

setting (place) · An unspecified Southern town; New York City; Boston; and, for a short time, England

protagonist · Linda Brent

major conflict · Linda Brent struggles to protect herself from her lecherous master and is torn between her desire to run away from him and her need to protect her children.

rising action · Dr. Flint refuses to sell Linda to Mr. Sands; Dr. Flint banishes Linda to his plantation; Aunt Martha tries to talk her out of running away; Linda discovers that her children will soon be broken in as field hands.

climax · Linda runs away from the plantation and goes into hiding, leaving her previous life behind and taking the first step away from slavery.

falling action · Dr. Flint throws Linda’s children and brother in jail; Linda tricks Dr. Flint into thinking she is living in the North; Mr. Sands promises to free their children but then breaks that promise.

themes · The corrupting power of slavery; domesticity as paradise and prison; the psychological abuses of slavery

motifs · Fractured family ties; confinement; graphic violence

symbols · Dr. Flint; Aunt Martha; the loophole of retreat

foreshadowing · Anecdotes about female slaves enduring sexual abuse and losing their children foreshadow Linda’s experiences.

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