Motherhood In Harriet Jacob's Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

1778 words - 7 pages

Motherhood, in its simplest definition is the state of being a mother; however, it isn't as clear cut and emotionless as the definition implies. Motherhood holds a different meaning for everyone. For some it is a positive experience, for others it's negative. Different situations change motherhood and the family unit. Slavery is an institution that twists those ideas into something hardly recognizable. The Master and the Mistress are parental figures. Slaves never became adults; they are called boy or girl no matter what their age. They are forced into a situation where biological parents have no say over their children. The slave owners control the slaves' lives and destroy the traditional idea of motherhood and family. Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl deals with the issues of being a woman in slavery. The mothers throughout the narrative are powerless in keeping their children from harm. They watch as their children are hurt or sold and can't do anything about it. The mothers use everything in their power to protect their children and succeed in their motherly duty.

Many women are born with a maternal instinct. This instinct surpasses all other emotions. As soon as a child is born she will give her life for that child and devote her life to the safety of her child. Slavery complicates this. Mothers had no control over what happened to their children; they were helpless. Mothers watched their children beaten and raped. They were forced to bear the children of their master. They raised children that were born from that pain and torture and knew that child would have the same life. Slaves wished for what they thought was best for their children: death. It is inconceivable for a modern woman to wish death upon her child and consider that to be the best choice; however, this was the best alternative. The woman knew that her child would have a terrible life. A life which she would have no control over, no power to make them happy, or keep them safe from harm. Although the slave mother wished that her children would die, she always wanted a painless death. She prayed that God would take her child while he or she was sleeping and bring the child to Heaven. On New Year's Day, slaves were hired. Mothers knew that their children would be taken away. They wished that their children would die in their sleep so they wouldn't have to go work for new masters. The slave woman hopes that "they may die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the system that has brutalized her from childhood; but she has a mother's instincts, and is capable of feeling a mother's agonies" (Jacobs 17). Slave women were torn between wanting their children to live and knowing her children were going to suffer. Because she has no control over her child's wellbeing, the slave mother prays that God will take her child out of slavery and into Heaven.

A slave woman has no control over her own body....

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