Women In Slavery

The Perils of Slavery

A recurring theme in, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, is Harriet Jacobs’s reflections on what slavery meant to her as well as all women in bondage. Continuously, Jacobs expresses her deep hatred of slavery, and all of its implications. She dreads such an institution so much that she sometimes regards death as a better alternative than a life in bondage. For Harriet, slavery was different than many African Americans. She did not spend her life harvesting cotton on a large plantation. She was not flogged and beaten with regular accurance like many slaves. She was not actively kept from illiteracy. Actually, Harriet always was treated relatively well. She performed most of her work inside and was rarely ever punished, at the request of her licentious master. Furthermore, she was taught to read and sew, and to perform other tasks associated with a “ladies” work. Outwardly, it appeared that Harriet had it pretty good, in light of what many slaves had succumbed to. However, Ironically Harriet believes these fortunes were actually her curse. The fact that she was well kept and light skinned as well as being attractive lead to her victimization as a sexual object. Consequently, Harriet became a prospective concubine for Dr. Norcom. She points out that life under slavery was as bad as any slave could hope for. Harriet talks about her life as slave by saying, “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 chattel, entirely subject to the will of another.” (Jacobs p. 55).
In the earliest part of Harriet’s life the whole idea of slavery was foreign to her. As all little girls she was born with a mind that only told her place in the world was that of a little girl. She had no capacity to understand the hardships that she inherited. She explains how her, “heart was as free from care as that of any free-born white child.”(Jacobs p. 7) She explains this blissful ignorance by not understanding that she was condemned at birth to a life of the worst kind oppression. Even at six when she first became familiar with the realization that people regarded her as a slave, Harriet could not conceptualize the weight of what this meant. She say’s that her circumstances as slave girl were unusually fortunate, because after her mother passed away she was left with Margaret Horniblow, whom Harriet was clearly fond of. Mistress Horniblow was the one who taught her to read and spell, and treated Harriet like she was her own daughter. Mistress never worked Harriet to hard or prevented her from having fun as little white girls did. Mrs. Horniblow kept her promise that Harriet should never suffer from anything. So, under the care of her mistress, Harriet’s life was a happy one. Still the affects of slavery had not taken hold of her. This went on until her mistress died and Harriet for the first time was exposed to her value as property. It is clear that Harriet Jacob’s has spent the better part of her life trying to reconcile the feelings she has towards her first mistress. On one hand, Harriet loves her mistress deeply for the way she treated Harriet. On the other hand, how could someone that apparently cared for her so much leave her with such an unpredictable fate? It seems that Harriet’s ignorance of her status as property is challenged greatly at this point. In Harriet’s retrospect as an older woman she seems to not have feelings of love and affection to her mistress but does have appreciation for the knowledge that she gained from her.
The next stage of Harriet’s life contains the realization of what slavery is. It was at this time that her true education began. The days of happy frolic were gone, the anguish of slavery was all that lie ahead. Everywhere, Harriet looked there was atrocities happening. Before, when she lived with Margaret Horniblow, she was taken care of. Now all she had was her grandmother. By the time she had spent a couple of years with the Norcom’s (Flint’s) several