Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl By Harriet A. Jacobs Summary and Analysis Chapter 26-29

Summary

Linda receives several letters from her brother, William, who has gone to Washington with his master, Mr. Sands. Suddenly, the letters stop, and Linda learns that William has escaped. Initially, she fears for her children, thinking that Mr. Sands might decide to sell them to make up for his loss. But Mr. Sands — who feels confident that William will return — is more surprised and disappointed by William's action than angry. After overhearing her grandmother's conversation with an elderly woman whose children have all been sold, Linda reminds herself of William's resolve to be free and is finally able to rejoice in his freedom, although, like her grandmother, she fears for his safety.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sands makes plans to send Ellen to live with his sister in Illinois, while Benjamin is to live with Mr. Sands and his new wife. When Linda learns of the plans, she is devastated at the thought of not being able to see her children any longer, although she realizes that the moves would be in their best interests. Ultimately, Mr. Sands decides to send Ellen to live with some of his relatives in Brooklyn. On the eve of Ellen's departure, Linda comes out of hiding and spends the evening with Ellen.

Six months later, Linda's grandmother receives a letter announcing Ellen's safe arrival in Brooklyn.

About this same time, Aunt Nancy (Aunt Martha's twin sister) dies, and Linda's grandmother is devastated by her sister's death. Aunt Nancy's death also forces Linda to reexamine her situation and to renew her resolve to escape before she, too, dies as a slave. She also realizes that the longer she remains, the greater danger she poses for her grandmother, a fact that is brought home to her when she narrowly escapes being discovered by Jenny, the house slave of her former benefactress. With the help of Uncle Phillip and his friend Peter, plans are made for Linda and her friend Fanny to travel north. Before she leaves, Linda introduces herself to her son, Ben, whom she has not spoken to for seven years while she was in hiding. He confesses that he has known of her hiding place all along.

Analysis

One of the most striking incidents in Chapter 26 is Mr. Sands' refusal to accept that William has run away. Emphasizing his kindness toward William, whom he claims he treated like his own brother, Mr. Sands blames the abolitionists for luring William away and insists that he will return as soon as he discovers the harsh realities of life for free blacks. Although he has witnessed Dr. Flint's cruel treatment of William and the way other slaveholders treat their slaves, Mr. Sands, as a free white man, cannot truly comprehend the devastating, soul-destroying reality of slavery and considers his slaves to be the equivalent of indentured servants who will regain their freedom in time and at his convenience. As he points out, he had planned to give William his freedom in five more years, so he doesn't understand why he wants to run away.

From Mr. Sands' perspective, Williams' action constitutes a breach of trust and loyalty rather than a bold and daring strike for freedom. In this respect, Mr. Sands is not unlike Dr. Flint, who views Linda's refusal to submit to his advances in much the same way. Mr. Sands' professed ignorance of the brutal realities of slavery seems especially shallow and hypocritical given that he is fully aware that the mother of his two children has been reduced to living like a caged animal and he does nothing to help her.

Another key incident (in Chapter 27) is Aunt Nancy's death, which — coupled with Williams' escape, Mr. Sands' decision to send her children to the North, and Jenny's near discovery of her hiding place — is the impetus for Linda's decision to escape. She realizes the pain and futility of spending another seven years in her "retreat." She can no longer rationalize her suffering as the price she must pay to see her children, who are no longer there to soothe her soul. Witnessing her grandmother's inconsolable grief at the loss of her sister conjures up images of her own grief at the imminent death of her grandmother. She decides that she has no choice but to seize what may well be her last chance to escape.

Note that Linda credits her escape (Chapter 29) not to her own courage and daring — characteristics often emphasized in male slave narratives — but to the love and support of her Uncle Phillip, her friend Peter, and her grandmother. Also note that despite her own fear and inconsolable grief over leaving her beloved grandmother, Linda worries about Fanny's welfare and does what little she can to comfort her friend. Here again, Linda's actions underscore a recurrent theme in the book: the love and support of the black community, especially the community of women, as a critical component of the struggle for survival and freedom.

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After Linda escapes from Mr. Flint's plantation, her relatives advise her to do what?




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