Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

comprehension and analysis

desribe harriet jacobs childhood. how does her childhood compare to your original idea about life as a slave? how does it differ? state two pieces of evidence from the text to show her childhood and supporting your reasoning

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Harriet introduces herself – a young slave girl who did not even know she was enslaved until she was six.

In chapter five, Harriet narrates how she had entered a dangerous time period for a slave girl. Her master began to whisper lecherous things into her ears. He was more than forty years older than her and she found him thoroughly repulsive. She had no help from her mistress, who was viciously jealous of slave women.

It was a terrible thing to be a slave girl. She grew up prematurely knowing evil things and was subject to the grossest violations of her mind and body. Harriet's master stalked her and made her wary, frightened, and hunted. She wanted to confide in someone, but she felt ashamed to tell her grandmother of these impure things. Her presence was some protection, however, because Dr. Flint was afraid of her and "dreaded her scorching rebukes".

Harriet suffered greatly from this man. She writes "Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for all my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered." She called out to the free men and women in the north, wondering why "do your tongues falter in maintenance of the right?"

In Chapter Six, Harriet continued to suffer from Dr. Flint's dogging of her steps. Her mistress could have helped these young slaves, but it was apparently a crime to want to be virtuous. Dr. Flint used exceedingly clever means to try and find Harriet and speak to her of vile things, and she would respond to him in anger. He grew enraged and her situation worsened daily.

When Harriet turned sixteen, it was obvious that Mrs. Flint despised her very presence. She was incensed when she found out that Dr. Flint had selected Harriet to sleep with their daughter in his apartment. She called Harriet in and asked her to answer her questions honestly. Harriet promised to do so, and Mrs. Flint asked her to tell her everything that has happened between her husband and Harriet. Harriet complied. Mrs. Flint's face showed rage, grief, and hopelessness. She often wept. As she was not a refined woman, Harriet bore the brunt of her jealousy and anger.

Harriet was made to sleep in a room adjoining her mistress's own. Mrs. Flint behaved so strangely that Harriet feared for her own life. She tried to trick her husband into confessing but he was too wily. Thankfully they never whipped her because the whole town knew her and this would have exposed Dr. Flint's conduct.

Harriet's grandmother began to notice things and tried to find ways to buy her, but Dr. Flint always protested that she belonged to his daughter. Harriet ruminated on the evils of slavery, mentioning that northerners were also complicit in sending fugitives back to the south and delighting in marrying their daughters to slaveholders. She believed that this "peculiar institution" deadened morality, but she gives a few examples of white people in which virtue was not wholly extinct.