Are you ready for another book review? Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet A. Jacobs (1831-1897) is one of the few accounts of slavery in the southern U.S. written by a woman. Published in 1861, there were questions concerning the authenticity of the narrative as well as the authorship for over a hundred years. Jacobs does not use her real name in the book, rather referring to herself as "Linda Brent". She also gave pseudonyms to the other characters to protect their privacy, but assures us in the Preface that the account is "no fiction". The book had its origins in a series of letters written by Jacobs and the discovery of the actual letters in the 1980's finally put the doubts to rest.
Jacobs was born a slave in rural North Carolina, but was not actually treated as such until she was 11. She was taught to read and write as a young child, something which was very rare for a slave. She wrote extremely well, and I must admit, there were times when I questioned whether she had actually written the book, as her language is very advanced. She paints a very real picture of the life led by slaves of the times- the cruelty, beatings, floggings, starvation and overwork, not to mention the splitting of families and selling of slave children. Of course as well as the physical and mental abuse by the Masters, there was also a good deal of sexual oppression - from humiliating advances by the Master to actual rape for many female slaves, and the cruel treatment by the Masters' jealous wives. In addition to these many indignities suffered by both male and female slaves, Jacobs felt the dehumanization of the blacks was in large part due to the psychological trauma of being "owned" by another human being.
Her desire to escape the brutality of slavery and her determination to protect her children from leading a similar life led her to risk her life for freedom- she spent SEVEN YEARS hiding in the cramped attic of her grandmother's house - in a space only several feet high and devoid of much air or light. A good portion of the book is devoted to this time span when she was living in fear of discovery and in anguish at not being able to communicate with her two children for fear of their giving her location away. Her eventual escape and travel northward was almost as incredible as what she endured as a slave, and even when in New York and Boston she still dealt with prejudice and the fear of capture. This autobiography is a riveting and deeply moving account of her harrowing personal experience during the brutal era of slavery. This would be an excellent read for a Book Club, and also as extra reading for History classes. I would recommend this book to everyone, especially if you have an interest in history. Let's remember this terrible time period and the horrendous treatment of the slaves, and share the story so history does not repeat itself...
“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
~ Abraham Lincoln