Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage. I and my children are now free! We are as free from the power of slave holders as are the white people of the north; and though that, according to my ideas, is not saying a great deal, it is a vast improvement in my condition.

In this passage from Chapter XVI, Jacobs explicitly refers to the novelistic conventions she has used to shape her autobiography. Incidents borrows much from melodramatic novels, known as “sentimental fiction,” which also featured lovely virgins trying to preserve their virtue, lecherous villains, desperate mothers, and enterprising young men. Although Jacobs tells a true story, she uses the popular literature with which her readers were familiar to help them accept and understand her unconventional, even radical, tale.

However, Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl also departs from sentimental fiction in important ways, as this quote reminds us. The heroine does not preserve her virtue. She has no valiant male protector, and the villain dies peacefully at home rather than receiving his just desserts. And, as Jacobs notes, the story does not end with the inevitable wedding. Not only is Jacobs still unmarried, but she still does not even have a home of her own, as she points out shortly after this passage. Thus, even as her writing strategy allows her readers to identify with her story, it also challenges the literary conventions of the time. Jacobs makes the point elsewhere in the narrative that slaves cannot be judged according to the laws and morals of the free world. Similarly, she implies here, the “life of a slave girl” cannot be written according to the usual plot lines.