The narrator of the work published under the name Linda Brent, Harriet tells the story of her childhood and youth as a slave; her persecution from the lascivious Dr. Flint and her relationship with Mr. Sands; her escape to the north and her attempts to protect her children; and her eventual emancipation. She evinces intelligence, fortitude, sympathy, and virtue. She struggles with her choice to engage in premarital sex with Mr. Sands, but tells her readers they have no right to judge her and that free and slave women should be judged differently. She emphasizes her selfless identity as a mother as well as her position as a voice for the slaves still in bondage. An excellent storyteller, she fills her memoir with exciting moments from her adventures, plaintive laments about the horrors of slavery, and compelling arguments for the humanity and dignity of slaves.
The daughter of Aunt Marthy, Harriet's mother lives with her husband and children in Aunt Marthy's home. She belongs to the daughter of Aunt Marthy's mistress. She dies when Harriet is six years old.
A slave and a carpenter by trade, Harriet's father desires to free his children and teach them their value. He dies not long after Harriet's mother, however.
Harriet's grandmother, or Aunt Marthy as she is called, is a virtuous, respectable, and upright elderly woman who takes care of her family and provides Harriet with spiritual and physical comfort. Her freedom is purchased by an elderly townswoman; this is indicative of how well-regarded she is by both blacks and whites. Her presence is even enough to keep Dr. Flint away from Harriet to some extent. She works tirelessly to secure the freedom of her children and grandchildren and lives to finally see Harriet free. Her moral rectitude sometimes causes her to ignore the realities of slavery for young women.
The son of Aunt Marthy and Harriet's uncle, Benjamin chafes under slavery and refuses to allow slavery to hold him within its grasp. After trials and tribulations, he escapes to the north. He is not heard from again.
The son of Aunt Marthy and uncle to Harriet, Phillip is intelligent and kind; his mother purchases his freedom for $800. Phillip aids Harriet's escapes and secures her hiding place in her grandmother's home. Dr. Flint threatens Phillip, suspecting his involvement in aiding Harriet.
Harriet's younger brother who finds it difficult to live the life of a slave. He is sent with Harriet to Dr. Flint's and observes with disgust the man's attentions toward his sister. He is smart, bold, and independent. When he is eventually purchased by Mr. Sands, he travels north with him until he decides to run away and join the abolitionists, fearing Mr. Sands would never set him free. He spends some time on a whaling voyage in New Bedford and then is reunited with Harriet in New York. After a failed attempt to open an anti-slavery reading room in Rochester, William moves to California and takes Benny with him.
A wealthy man with many properties and a multitude of slaves, Dr. Flint is Harriet's greatest enemy in that he pursues her relentlessly out of lust and does everything he can to make her life and her children's lives miserable. He is hypocritical, duplicitous, and manipulative. He is a jealous man, afraid of his son and other men who might become involved with Harriet. He never gives up trying to find Harriet after she escapes. He exemplifies the worst type of slaveholder and is completely lacking in sympathy or humanity.
The wife of Dr. Flint, Mrs. Flint is a jealous, suspicious, and harsh woman prone to bouts of rage and depression as well as intense racial prejudice. She hates Harriet because her husband lusts after her, and refuses to help her. She works with her husband to find Harriet after she escapes, and gloats at any trouble that befalls Harriet or her children.
The young unmarried son of a lawyer, Mr. Sands enters into a sexual relationship with Harriet; she bears two children, Benny and Ellen. Mr. Sands appears free of most racial prejudice and treats Harriet kindly. He tries to buy Harriet's children and eventually succeeds, purchasing them and William. He is disappointed when William leaves him and assumes he will return. He wins a seat in Congress and moves north; Harriet's worries for her children's fates pushes him to place Ellen with relatives of his in Brooklyn. He marries and has children with his new wife.
The son of Dr. and Mrs. Flint, he possesses the same dearth of virtue as his father. He is cruel, greedy, and irrational; his father fears him as a rival for Harriet and keeps her away from him for a long time. When he is older and newly married, he takes control of the large plantation; Harriet is sent there to work and eventually her children are summoned to be broken in.
Miss Emily Flint
Miss Flint, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Flint, is Harriet's official owner. While a child she treats Harriet kindly, but when she is older she is complicit in her parents' grasping machinations to get Harriet back. She marries Mr. Dodge and travels with him to New York looking for Harriet.
Harriet's son with Mr. Sands, Benny grows from being a sickly child to a smart, energetic, and charming young boy. He resides with his grandmother without knowing his mother is hiding in the same house. He is eventually sent north by Harriet's grandmother, and placed in the care of William. He is left to a trade while Harriet visits England, but when she returns she learns he left that situation of racist sentiment and prejudice and took up on a whaling voyage. When he returns he travels to California with his uncle William.
Harriet's daughter with Mr. Sands, Ellen is sweet, intelligent, and loving. When she is young she is sent to the plantation where she is to work as any other slave, but Harriet brings her back to her grandmother's home. There she grows up while her mother is hiding in the crawlspace above the shed; before Harriet heads north she reveals herself to her daughter in an emotional reunion. Later Ellen is sent to Brooklyn to relatives of Mr. Sands to protect her from Dr. Flint. Her uncle pays for her to attend boarding school, where she flourishes academically and socially.
An elderly slave whom Harriet teaches to read and write.
A woman who lives at Harriet's grandmother's house; she helps Harriet in her first escape from Dr. Flint.
A friend of Harriet's and a woman who works for the white woman who allows Harriet to hide in the room above her own sleeping apartment. Betty takes care of Harriet and visits her brother and children for her.
A young black friend of Harriet's who had been apprenticed to her father. Peter arranges for her escape through Snaky Swamp as well as her escape to New York.
An elderly slave and friend of Harriet's grandmother. Aggie is mother to Fanny, who escapes with Harriet to New York.
A runaway slave and daughter of Aggie who escapes north with Harriet. Fanny eventually remains with abolitionists in New York.
Harriet's mother's twin sister, Aunt Nancy is sweet, steadfast, and sympathetic. She works for Mrs. Flint when that lady was younger; her hard work leads her to develop health problems with carrying children and eventually renders her infertile. She is a great source of comfort and love for Harriet through the girl's life, and wishes only to see Harriet and her children free. Her death brings much sorrow to Harriet and her grandmother, of whom she was the last remaining daughter.
Rev. Jeremiah Durham
The Reverend of Bethel Church in Philadelphia with whom Harriet resides for a few days while waiting to move on to New York. He counsels Harriet to stick to her principles and trust in God, and be careful about stoking others' contempt regarding her moral choices.
The Rev. Jeremiah Durham's wife, who treats Harriet with kindness and sympathy while she stays in their household for a few days in Philadelphia.
A cousin of Mr. Sands in Brooklyn to whom Ellen is sent for safekeeping from the Flints. Mrs. Hobbs tells Harriet that she intends Ellen to stay on as a waiting-maid for her eldest daughter, thus exciting Harriet's fears that her daughter will never be truly free.
The husband of Mrs. Hobbs, the woman with whom Ellen resided. Mr. Hobbs's financial problems led him to take a subordinate position at the Custom House and led Harriet to fear that he might sell Ellen for money.
The brother of Mrs. Hobbs, Mr. Thorne is a dissolute and shady man whose poverty and recklessness lead him to contact Dr. Flint to tell him of Harriet's presence in New York.
The husband of Harriet's employer, Mrs. Bruce (the first). When his first wife dies, he requests Harriet travel to England with his daughter to see relatives.
The wife of Mr. Bruce, she hires Harriet as a live-in nurse for her baby. She is English and seems to possess no prejudice or racism, always treating Harriet with respect and kindness. When Harriet finally confesses that she is a runaway, Mrs. Bruce listens sympathetically and helps her escape to Boston.
Mrs. Bruce (the second)
Mr. Bruce's second wife, Mrs. Bruce is kind, charitable, and sympathetic. Possessing noble principles and a warm heart, she helps Harriet avoid capture from Dr. Flint, even allowing her to take her own child with her to protect her from grasping pursuers. She eventually secures Harriet's freedom, purchasing her from Mr. Dodge for $300.
The husband of Emily Flint and son-in-law of Dr. Flint. Mr. Dodge was a Yankee peddler before he married up the social ladder. After a feud with Mr. Flint, Mr. Dodge and his wife are left nothing in Dr. Flint's will and thus go searching for their slave, Harriet.
The great aunt of Mr. Flint. She bought Aunt Marthy when she was cruelly put up for sale, then freed her shortly thereafter. She is a friend to Aunt Marthy and visits for tea.
A particularly violent and cruel slaveowner.
A local reverend whom the slaves hear sermons from.
Hired by Mrs. Bruce, Lawyer Hopper consulted on Harriet's situation.
The daughter of the first Mrs. Bruce. As her nurse, Harriet cares deeply for the child.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Jacobs emphasizes these things in order to make her readers (particularly women and mothers) become emotionally vested in the plight of slave women. She wants these people to understand women are inherently alike..... they have the same fears,...
From Harriet's words in Chapter XXXVIII, we can infer that learning or supporting oneself through trade was vitually impossible for a black man. Benny, a mullato, was initially accepted and well liked, It wasn't until after the others found out...
During Harriet's goodbye to Benny in Chapter XXIX, it is revealed that her son is also somewhat of a trickster. Harriet learns that Benny figured out that his mother was hiding in the storeroom shortly after Ellen was sent to Brooklyn. He heard a...
Study Guide for Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl study guide contains a biography of Harriet Jacobs, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs.