Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl By Harriet A. Jacobs Summary and Analysis Chapters 10-11

Summary

In Chapter 10, Linda resumes her story from Chapter 7 about her relationship with the free black carpenter. Having refused the man's offer to buy Linda's freedom, Dr. Flint adopts a new tactic to try to win Linda's submission: He offers to build her a house and make her "a lady." In desperation, Linda decides to enter into a sexual relationship with Mr. Sands, a white lawyer who has shown an interest in her. Reasoning that he is unmarried, that he seems to be a gentleman, and that — if she consents to be his mistress — he will most likely buy her from Dr. Flint, Linda consents to his advances and becomes pregnant by him. The next time Dr. Flint approaches her, she experiences a moment of triumph when she tells him that she is carrying another man's child.

When she tries to explain her situation to her grandmother, she finds it difficult to speak. Consequently, her grandmother, thinking that Linda has given in to Dr. Flint, turns her out of her house. Heartbroken at the thought that she has disgraced her family, Linda leaves in tears and finds shelter at a friend's home. After confessing her situation, the friend convinces her to send for her grandmother and tell her the truth. Linda does so, and the two women reconcile.

Linda returns home to live with her grandmother. Concerned for her welfare, Linda's grandmother speaks to Mr. Sands, who promises to care for Linda and her child.

Meanwhile, Dr. Flint is outraged at what he perceives as Linda's betrayal and tries to coerce her into revealing her lover's identity. When she refuses, he reaffirms his vow that she will remain his slave for life.

Shortly before Linda's baby is born, her Uncle Phillip comes for a visit. Linda is ashamed of her condition and, at first, tries to avoid him. But she finally agrees to see him and is touched by his compassion.

Linda is exhausted from physical and emotional stress, and she becomes critically ill, but refuses to let Dr. Flint treat her. Her baby is born prematurely and both mother and child are weak and sickly for a year, during which Dr. Flint visits them on occasion, meanwhile venting his wrath on Linda's brother, William, who works as his assistant. Gradually, Linda and her baby boy — who remains nameless — regain their strength.

Analysis

Much like the Africans who were forced onto slave ships to begin their perilous passage across the Atlantic, Linda — by choosing to enter into a sexual relationship with Mr. Sands — embarks on a perilous passage from which there is no turning back. Although she regrets the pain she is causing her grandmother, she does not try to rationalize or justify her decision, but openly admits that, given her intolerable circumstances, she sees no other way out.

Linda claims accountability for her actions and expresses intense guilt and shame for what she has done: "My self-respect was gone! I had resolved that I would be virtuous, though I was a slave." However, she acknowledges, understands, and tries to communicate her powerlessness: "I feel that the slave woman ought not to be judged by the same standard as others." Like many women throughout history, Linda was judged by a moral standard that she wasn't allowed the personal power to adhere to.

Linda's relationship with her newborn son is a major turning point in her life. As she contemplates her son's dismal future, her emotions run the gamut from fierce, protective love to overwhelming fear at the thought of having her son torn from her arms and sold to another master.

Black people, both slaves and free, were often powerless to help and protect loved ones, and the pain this helplessness caused is the underlying theme of Chapter 11.

For example, Linda's grandmother is concerned about Linda and the baby, and she speaks with Mr. Sands (the child's father), chastising him and imploring him to care for Linda and his child. He agrees to care for the child and to try to buy Linda. However, Dr. Flint avows that he will never sell her. So both Linda's grandmother and Mr. Sands are powerless to protect her from Dr. Flint.

Linda's brother, William, works as Dr. Flint's assistant, and he is often forced to watch his master threaten and humiliate Linda. When he shows tears brought on by his frustration at being unable to help her, Dr. Flint puts him in jail.

The chapter ends with Linda's frantic concern over her child's illness and her inability to heal him. Linda has seemingly conflicting emotions about her son. Although she loves him dearly, she finds herself wishing him dead to keep him from being subjected to a life of slavery. According to scholars and historians familiar with this era, such feelings were not unusual among slave mothers.

Although Linda enjoys and is dedicated to her son, she must always carry the burden that her child is a slave, and she doesn't have the power to free him or protect him: ". . . always there was a dark cloud over my enjoyment. I could never forget that he was a slave."

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




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