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The book’s protagonist and a pseudonym for the author Harriet Jacobs. Linda begins life innocently, unaware of her enslaved state. In the face of betrayal and harassment at the hands of her white masters, she soon develops the knowledge, skills, and determination that she needs to defend herself. Linda is torn between a desire for personal freedom and a feeling of responsibility to her family, particularly her children.
Read an in-depth analysis of Linda Brent.
Linda’s master, enemy, and would-be lover. Although Dr. Flint has the legal right to “use” Linda in any way he chooses, he seeks to seduce her by means of threats and trickery rather than outright force. Linda’s rebelliousness enrages him, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of breaking her will. Throughout the long battle over Linda’s right to own herself, Dr. Flint never shows any sign of remorse or understanding that she is a person with rights and feelings.
Read an in-depth analysis of Dr. Flint.
Linda’s maternal grandmother and chief ally. Aunt Martha is pious and patient, suffering silently as she watches her children and grandchildren sold off and abused by their masters. Aunt Martha also represents a kind of maternal selfishness, grieving when her loved ones escape to freedom because she will never see them again. For her, family ties must be preserved at all costs, even if it means a life spent in slavery.
Read an in-depth analysis of Aunt Martha.
Dr. Flint’s jealous wife. Mrs. Flint is characterized mainly by her hypocrisy. She is a church woman who supposedly suffers from weak nerves, but she treats her slaves with callousness and brutality. Mrs. Flint demonstrates how the slave system has distorted the character of southern women.
Linda’s white lover and the father of her children. Mr. Sands has a kindlier nature than Dr. Flint, but he feels no real love or responsibility for his mixed-race children. He repeatedly breaks his promises to Linda that he will free them.
Linda’s beloved uncle, a slave who defies and beats his slave master and then runs away. Uncle Benjamin’s successful escape inspires Linda, but also shows her that to run away means to give up all family and community ties.
Linda’s children with Mr. Sands. Linda loves Benny and Ellen passionately, and her feelings about them drive the book’s action. Benny and Ellen are dutiful children but otherwise are not characterized in great detail.
Linda’s other uncle, instrumental in her escape. Uncle Phillip is reliable and moderate, remaining in the South with his family long after his mother, Aunt Martha, buys his freedom.
Linda’s brother, to whom she is close. William’s escape from Mr. Sands, his relatively “kind” slave master, shows that even a privileged slave desires freedom above all else.
Linda’s maternal aunt and Mrs. Flint’s slave. A martyr figure, Aunt Nancy is slowly killed by Mrs. Flint’s abuse.
A family friend who helps Linda escape. Peter urges Linda to risk the escape he has planned rather than to remain in her attic hideaway.
An upper-class white friend of Aunt Martha’s who hides Linda for a while. She is not named even with a pseudonym and is one of the few genuinely sympathetic slave owners in the book.
A slave in the household of the white benefactress. Betty is uneducated but an intelligent, loyal, and resourceful slave who provides material assistance and encouragement to Linda.
A family friend who lives with Aunt Martha and helps Linda escape into hiding.
An old slave woman who tells Aunt Martha to rejoice that William has run away. Aggie provides a counterpoint to Aunt Martha’s reluctance to see her loved ones escape to the North.
Dr. Flint’s daughter and Linda’s legal “owner.” Emily Flint serves mainly as Dr. Flint’s puppet, sometimes writing Linda letters in her name, trying to trick her into returning to Dr. Flint.
Emily Flint’s husband, who seeks to recapture Linda after Dr. Flint dies. Although Mr. Dodge is northern by birth, entering southern society has made him feel as floundering and desensitized as any native-born slave holder.
Dr. Flint’s son. Nicholas is essentially a carbon copy of his father, with the same lecherous tendencies toward his female slaves that Dr. Flint has.
Nicholas’s bride. Seemingly kind at first, young Mrs. Flint provides further evidence of the cruelty of slaveholding women when she orders an elderly slave to eat grass.
Mr. Sands’s New York cousin, to whom he “gives” Ellen. Mrs. Hobbs is a little slice of the Old South in Brooklyn, selfishly treating Ellen as property and highlighting the continued danger for escaped slaves even after they reach the Free States.
A southerner visiting Brooklyn who betrays Linda’s whereabouts to Dr. Flint. Like Mrs. Hobbs, Mr. Thorne signals that a fugitive slave can never feel safe again.
Linda’s first employer in New York City. Mrs. Bruce is a kindly Englishwoman who helps Linda hide from the Flints. She dies and is replaced by the second Mrs. Bruce.
Mrs. Bruce’s husband, who takes Linda on a trip to England.
Mr. Bruce’s second wife. The second Mrs. Bruce is an abolitionist American who protects Linda at great risk to herself and ultimately buys her freedom from Mr. Dodge. Linda claims to be very grateful to Mrs. Bruce but is also very upset at being purchased by her.
Abolitionist antislavery friends of Linda’s in Rochester. The Posts appear in the book under their real names. They show Linda that it is possible for white people to treat her as an equal.
Free Black people, and the first people Linda meets in Philadelphia. The Durhams, with their legitimate marriage and morally upstanding lives, remind Linda that slavery has robbed her of the chance to have a normal existence.
A slave friend of Linda’s with whom she escapes by boat to the North. Fanny had the devastating experience of watching all of her children be sold to slave traders.
An elderly woman and the sister of Aunt Martha’s slave holder. Miss Fanny buys and frees Aunt Martha when Dr. Sands puts her on the auction block.
An acquaintance of Linda’s from home whom she meets on the street in New York. Luke has escaped by stealing money from his dead master, and Linda uses him as an example of how slaves cannot be judged by the same moral standards as free citizens.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl!