Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl By Harriet A. Jacobs Summary and Analysis Chapters 8-9

Summary

In Chapters 8 and 9, Linda digresses from her personal narrative to address some broader issues concerning the conditions of slaves and the institution of slavery. In these two chapters, she focuses on the reasons that many slaves didn't defy the slaveholders or attempt escape.

In Chapter 8, Linda discusses the lies and misinformation (about the Free States) that slaveholders communicated to slaves in order to discourage them from running away. For example, one slaveholder shares a story about a runaway facing death from starvation. She also holds Northerners accountable for their complicity in slavery, especially for enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law.

Briefly in Chapter 8 and throughout Chapter 9, Linda describes the physical violence inflicted on slaves by slaveholders. Linda presents harrowing tales concerning the murder, torture, and abuse of slaves on plantations owned by three neighboring slaveholders: Mr. Litch, Mr. Conant, and Mrs. Wade.

Analysis

Chapters 8 and 9 focus on the methods slaveholders use to instill fear in their slaves. Slaveholders impart lies about the Free States and the possibilities of freedom. Linda stresses that the majority of slaves are deliberately kept in ignorance about the North. Despite the brutal treatment some slaves are subjected to at the hands of their masters, they are taught that they cannot survive on their own and are better off where they are. Slaveholders subject their slaves to acts of extreme violence. Because of this brutality, slaves fear the consequences of fleeing or defying their masters. And many slaves are too physically and/or emotionally broken to risk an escape into the unknown.

Linda believes that knowledge is the key to gaining freedom from the bonds of slavery — an important theme throughout the book.

Many slaves believe the slaveholders' lies about the futility of running away — the "deplorable" conditions, starvation, and so on. However, Linda explains that slaves with more accurate information are aware that some people in the Free States are willing to help them and, thus, a better quality of life is possible. Linda says that with teaching, slaves can "begin to understand their own capabilities, and exert themselves to become men and women."

Although Linda applauds both knowledge and defiance, she knows that a slave isn't accountable for his brutalized condition. The cause, she says, "is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes the manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South, and the scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the north. . . ."

Although Linda herself is not subjected to the brutal physical abuse that Chapter 9 describes, she is forced to endure extreme mental and psychological anguish as she fights to free herself from Dr. Flint. Her own education — for example, her ability to read newspapers — provides her with a look at the possibilities of freedom in the North.

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




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