Imagine living day to day unable to control anything that happens, being shoved around like a nobody, and treated so poorly that the only way to escape this torture is to run away. Harriet Jacobs goes through three stages in her life, Innocent, Orphan, and Warrior. Nellie McKay defines the stages in her opinion through the essay “The Girls Who Became the Women.” Jacobs illustrates her life and the true stages through her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs goes from being a harmless slave child to being rebellious, through three life changing stages.
Innocence is a very short stage during Jacobs’ childhood. In this stage she is completely “unaware of her slave condition” (McKay 241). In her childhood, “she [lives] with and [enjoys] the love and security” of her grandmother after her mother, father, and mistress pass away (241). These family members help her get through the beginning of her life and try to do what is best for her by making sure she doesn’t have to go into slavery until the last possible moment. According to McKay, Jacobs ends the Innocent stage when she is six.
Jacobs actually goes through the Innocent stage from the day she is born until the age of twelve. While Jacobs’ mother is “on her death-bed her mistress [promises] that her children should never suffer for any thing” and she holds to this promise until she dies six years later (Jacobs 5). Jacobs’ mother never wants her children to suffer, therefore her mistress feels as if she has to take this role over and make sure they don’t struggle. When her mistress dies, Jacobs is “sent to spend a week with [her] grandmother” (6). She strictly relies on her grandmother’s help, no matter what the situation is. The stage of Innocence truly ends when Jacobs is sent to Dr. James Norcom’s.
In reality, when Jacobs arrives at Dr. James Norcom’s, she changes from Innocence to Orphan. This stage brings “personal knowledge and a political awareness of race and power” to Jacobs’ attention (McKay 243). For example, when Jacobs comes across two girls she “sees them embracing each other, and hears their joyous laughter” while being aware of “how soon [their] laughter [will] be changed to sighs” (Jacobs 28). Jacobs knows what is ahead of this innocent “little slave’s heart” because of how her life has changed from the day she was the same age as the young girls (28). Along with witnessing the two girls’ situation, Jacobs gives birth to Joseph and Louisa, which only makes things worse for her because she is constantly worrying about how they are both going to receive similar slave treatment. Daily life begins to change for Jacobs when she “enters on her fifteenth year” (26). Her “master begins to whisper foul words in her ear,” threaten her, and pressure her into things she doesn’t want to do such as sexual...