Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl By Harriet A. Jacobs Summary and Analysis Chapters 5-6

Summary

In Chapters 5 and 6, Linda, age 15, describes the daily torments she must endure in the Flint household. Pursued by the lecherous Dr. Flint, age 55, she invokes the jealous rage of Mrs. Flint who, instead of trying to protect Linda, sees her as responsible for arousing her husband's lust. To illustrate that her plight is no different from that of countless other black women, Linda tells the story of two sisters who are raised together even though one is the others' slave. But although the white girl grows up and gets married, her darker-skinned sister is left behind to endure the shame and degradation of sexual exploitation by her master.

When Dr. Flint realizes that he cannot coerce Linda into submitting to his advances with threats of violence or promises of favorable treatment, he comes up with a new scheme: He decides to bring his four-year-old daughter to his apartment and designates Linda as the child's servant, which requires her to sleep in the little girl's room at night. He then brings his daughter into his own bedroom, which requires Linda to sleep in his room.

When Mrs. Flint hears of this arrangement, she is furious and demands that Linda swear on her Bible that she did not sleep with her husband. Linda readily does so, and Mrs. Flint, temporarily satisfied, promises to protect Linda from her husband. Consequently, she demands that Linda sleep in a room adjoining her own, where she keeps a constant watch over her, an arrangement Linda eventually finds even more nerve-wracking than being pursued by Dr. Flint. When this new arrangement no longer satisfies her, she begins accusing her husband of improper behavior in front of Linda. When Linda realizes that the immature, emotional Mrs. Flint is totally at the mercy of her manipulative husband, she knows that she cannot count on her for protection.

Suspicious of the goings-on in the Flint household, Linda's grandmother offers to buy Linda's freedom, but Dr. Flint refuses, insisting that because Linda is the "property" of his daughter, he has no right to sell her.

Meanwhile, Dr. Flint continues to pursue Linda, alternating his threats of violence with promises of favorable treatment and appeals to Linda's "ingratitude" for not appreciating his "kindness."

Analysis

In these two chapters, Linda graphically depicts her situation as a young female slave caught between her lustful, manipulative master and his emotionally immature and insecure wife. She points out that although for white women beauty is a virtue, for black women, it is a curse that makes them more likely to become the objects of their masters' lusts. Although Linda realizes that she is a slave, she also acknowledges that she is a woman capable of arousing her mistresses' hate and jealously. Consequently, she is trapped in a dangerous situation over which she has no control. She despises Dr. Flint and realizes that the only person she can turn to for help is Mrs. Flint. But when she discovers that Mrs. Flint blames her for her husband's behavior, she knows that she must find some other way to escape Dr. Flint's relentless pursuit.

In Chapter 6, Linda reflects on the intricate relationships between black and white women and between white men and white women. In essence, she points out that both black and white women are at the mercy of the white patriarchal system that enables white men to exercise complete control over their wives, who — afraid that confronting their husbands' sexual misconduct will endanger their marriages — generally choose to ignore it and vent their wrath on their female slaves.

For example, in Chapter 6, Linda notes that a slave "is not allowed to have any pride of character." Several pages later, she admits that she "pitied Mrs. Flint" because "she was completely foiled [by her husband] and knew not how to proceed." She realizes that Dr. Flint does not allow his wife "to have any pride of character," because he does nothing to allay her suspicions, nor does he stop pursuing Linda even when his wife is fully aware of the situation. Because Mrs. Flint has no control over her husband's behavior, she turns her wrath on Linda, even though she realizes that Linda, like herself, is totally powerless to change the situation.

Linda points out that white women are both victims of and accomplices in their husbands' sexual exploitation of enslaved black women. She does acknowledge that the few women who do speak up often shame their husbands into freeing their slave children and that these women often "commanded their [husbands'] respect." But she points out that, in general, white women — whether they are Southerners steeped in the plantation tradition or Northerners enamored with the prospect of marrying a wealthy Southern landowner — are just as responsible as white men for perpetuating the institution of slavery.

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




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