What Did Freedom Mean To Harriet Jacobs

1655 words - 7 pages

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, freedom can be defined as the quality or state of being free: as liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. During the 1800’s there were thousands of slaves in the southern region of the United States hoping to achieve a state of liberation. One of those slaves was a young woman by the name of Harriet Jacobs. She became the author of a slave narrative titled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which describes her life as a slave under the pseudonym Linda Brent. I believe Harriet Jacobs used Linda Brent to tell her story not only to protect those who were involved, such as her children and her grandmother, but also because she was an escaped slave and had been under the constant threat of being tracked down and having her freedom taken away from her. Like the majority of those enslaved at that time, freedom meant everything to Harriet Jacobs. To Harriet Jacobs freedom meant having individual liberties, but more importantly having the somatic rights to choose what happens to her body and who has claim to it, if at all. Discovering exactly what these freedoms meant to her will mean taking a look into her story through Linda.
To understand the desperation of wanting to obtain freedom at any cost, it is necessary to take a look into what the conditions and lives were like of slaves. It is no secret that African-American slaves received cruel and inhumane treatment. Although she wrote of the horrific afflictions experienced by slaves, Linda Brent said, “No pen can give adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery." The life of a slave was never a satisfactory one, but it all depended on the plantation that one lived on and the master that owned them. Some slaves were treated with kindness and not as though they were chattel. However, many slaves faced the unfortunate fate of working under a ruthless and punishing master. Brent wrote about a slave whose master punished him unmercifully by stripping and whipping him. He was then tied to a tree during a stormy winter night for three hours. She also told a tale about a slave who stole a pig, from the same master, to ease his hunger. He was caught, beaten and tried to run away. Two miles into his escape he could not go any further and dragged himself back to his master’s home. Upon being brought into the house, his wounds were then treated. Linda Brent ended the story by saying, “The master said he deserved a hundred more lashes. When his own labor was taken from him, he had stolen food to appease his hunger. This was his crime.” Having to endure these circumstances day in and day out, and understanding that this is the way you will live for the rest of your life, is enough to make anyone consider the option of freedom; even if it meant risking everything in the process.
Understanding what it was like to be a slave is not enough to be able to appreciate what freedom meant to Harriet Jacobs/Linda...

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