Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl By Harriet A. Jacobs Summary and Analysis Chapters 14-16

Summary

Linda bears another child, a daughter, and despite Dr. Flint's protests, both children are baptized. She names her son Benjamin, after her favorite uncle, and her daughter Ellen, after her father's mistress.

With two children to care for, Linda's life is even more challenging, because Dr. Flint begins to use her children to punish and control her. After again refusing to sell her and her children, Dr. Flint offers to buy their freedom if Linda will consent to live with him as his mistress. When she refuses, he threatens to send her and her children to live on his son's plantation. Linda finally succumbs to — as the lesser of two evils — go to the plantation.

Linda and Ellen leave for Mr. Flint's plantation. Ben is ill so Linda leaves him behind with her grandmother. At the plantation, Linda resolves to work hard, but adamantly resists being "broken in." Because her new duties — which include preparing the household for the arrival of the new Mrs. Flint — are extremely demanding, Linda is forced to leave Ellen on her own for most of the day. After a terrifying incident during which Ellen is nearly killed by a snake, Linda realizes that she can no longer care for her daughter and sends her back to live with her grandmother. When Mr. Flint objects, she tells him that Ellen is sick and he lets the incident pass.

Over the next several weeks, Linda, accompanied by a young man from the plantation, sneaks home several times to visit her children. During one of her visits, she reveals her plans to escape, but changes her mind when her grandmother reminds her that her first responsibility is to her children. But when she accidentally learns that Dr. Flint plans to send her children back to Mr. Flint's plantation, she renews her resolve and begins to plot her escape.

Analysis

In these three chapters, Linda focuses on the new hardships she is forced to endure as the mother of two young children. She is especially distraught at the birth of her daughter, because she realizes that, as a female, the child will be forced to follow in her footsteps: "When they told me my new-born babe was a girl, my heart was heavier than it had ever been before. Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women."

In Chapter 15, Linda is presented with a heart-rending dilemma: Dr. Flint offers to give her and her children freedom if Linda will consent to live as his mistress. He promises to procure her a cottage, where she can live with her children. She must make a pivotal decision, one of the most difficult that any mother could face. In order for her children to be free, she must accept sexual servitude to an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive man whom she despises. And such an arrangement violates Linda's devout Christian beliefs. (In Chapter 14, Linda takes a great risk by having her children baptized in the church. Because blacks were believed to be creatures without a soul, this ceremony was generally restricted to whites.)

Possibly the greatest burden of Linda's life is that her children are living in slavery. And now she is being offered the opportunity to see her children free if she sacrifices her own morality. Compared to the lives of other slaves, this living arrangement provided benefits. She would be able to live with her children, in relative privacy, and Dr. Flint promises that her work duties will be light.

Linda doesn't accept Dr. Flint's offer, choosing instead to go to the plantation. Dr. Flint threatens that her son will be put to work, and both of her children will ultimately be sold. Readers may question Linda's decision. But throughout her life, Linda has been betrayed by white people. Her understandable reluctance to trust in their promises is a recurring theme throughout the narrative. She knows that Dr. Flint would not fulfill his promises, and the legal documents he drew up would be invalid: "I knew that my master's offer was a snare, and that if I entered it escape would be impossible." So she believes that her decision to go to the plantation is "inevitable."

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




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