Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another.

In this remark from Chapter X, Jacobs makes one of her narrative’s most powerful and radical claims: that other women have no right to condemn her for her shocking revelations about her sexual history unless they have been similarly victimized. As in the Preface, she uses a direct tone, taking charge of the reader at a controversial moment and asserting her right to interpret her own life story. If you have never been powerless in the face of sexual harassment and abuse, Jacobs argues, you cannot possibly understand what she has been through.

The implication is that slaves should not be judged according to the moral and legal standards of the free world at all. Since slaves have no control over their bodies and destinies, they cannot reasonably be convicted of unethical or illegal actions. Elsewhere in the book, Jacobs makes similar arguments about slaves’ relationships to crime and the law, even defending the right of a slave to steal from his master on the grounds that all slaves are owed a lifetime of unpaid wages.