Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl By Harriet A. Jacobs Summary and Analysis Chapter 40

Summary

Disappointed by the failure of his business venture, William moves to California, taking Ben with him. Ellen continues to do well in school and when her teachers discover that she is the daughter of a fugitive slave, they do their best to protect her.

Alone and unemployed once more, Linda returns to New York and decides to visit Mary and Mr. Bruce. She learns that Mr. Bruce has remarried and he invites her to be the nurse for his new child. Aware of the recent passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, Linda hesitates, but then decides to accept his offer. The new Mrs. Bruce is an American woman but, like the former Mrs. Bruce, she treats Linda with kindness and respect.

As Linda considers the devastating consequences of the Fugitive Slave Law, she recalls that the law forced people who had lived in New York for as long as twenty years to uproot their families and escape to Canada. She specifically recalls the case of James Hamlin (Hamlet), said to be the first person arrested under the new law. She also tells a story about a slave named Luke and his cruel master, and Luke's eventual escape to Canada with his master's money.

Linda also learns that Dr. Flint is once more on her trail. Mrs. Bruce helps her escape to New England and entrusts her with her own baby. Linda seeks refuge in the country, where she remains for a month. When she learns that Dr. Flint has given up his pursuit, she returns to New York.

Analysis

The Fugitive Slave Law was an example of the type of legislation Southern whites instituted in a desperate effort to maintain their slave economy. The law caused great anguish and upheaval in the lives of blacks.

In this chapter, Linda demonstrates her commitment to knowledge and her continued bond with the black community. Every evening she examines the newspapers carefully to see which Southerners are in the vicinity looking for slaves. She does this for her own safety, but also "to give information to others, if necessary; for if many were 'running to and fro,' I resolved that 'knowledge should be increased.'"

Readers also see the continued development of Linda's strong political consciousness. She defends Luke, the slave who took his master's money and went to Canada: "I confess that I agree with poor, ignorant, much-abused Luke, in thinking that he had a right to that money, as a portion of his unpaid wages." She and William spend their last evening together talking about the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, and she remarks at length about the North's hypocrisy in upholding such a law.

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




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