Harriet Jacobs' Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl
The feminist movement sought to gain rights for women. Many feminist during the early nineteenth century fought for the abolition of slavery around the world. The slave narrative became a powerful feminist tool in the nineteenth century. Black and white women are fictionalized and objectified in the slave narrative. White women are idealized as pure, angelic, and chaste while black woman are idealized as exotic and contained an uncontrollable, savage sexuality. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, brought the sexual oppression of captive black women into the public and political arena.
Harriet Jacobs takes a great risk writing her trials as a house servant in the south and a fugitive in the north. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gives a true account of the brutality slavery held for women. A perspective that was relatively secretive during Jacobs’ time. Jacobs’ narrative focuses on subjugation due to race but it also portrays many women an strong and often open roles. Women in these roles were minimal and often suffered for their outspoken roles.
Harriet Jacobs’ narrative is a powerful statement unveiling the impossibility and undesirability of achieving the ideal put forth by men and maintained by women. Jacobs directs her account of the afflictions a woman is subjected to in the chain of slavery to women of the north to gain sympathy for their sisters that were enslaved in the south. In showing this, Jacobs reveals the danger of such self disapprobation women maintained by accepting the idealized role that men have set a goal for which to strive. She suggests that slave women be judged by different standards than those applied to other women. Jacobs develops a moral code that apprises the specific social and historical position of captive black women. Jacobs’ will power and strength shown in her narrative are characteristics of womanly behavior being developed by the emerging feminist movement.
In struggling against the brutal dynamics of a system that simultaneously set before her ideals of a true woman, but refused to acknowledge her as a human being, Jacobs emerges scarred but victorious. Her rational powers and will to action facilitate her efforts to find strategies for dealing with sexual harassment from her master, for maintaining family unity, and in establishing a moral code in harmony with her beliefs and situation. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Jacobs’ primary ordeal is the persistent sexual harassment and obsessive pursuit by Dr. Flint. Instead of bowing to what appears to be the inescapable sexual regression by Flint, Jacobs devises a plan of action that helps her maintain dignity, self-hood, and family unity. Jacobs took on another white man, Sawyer, as a lover because she knew it was inevitable that she would bear a white man’s child. Since Flint denied Jacobs a marriage to a free black man and refused to sell her to anyone,...