Showing posts with label Harriet Jacobs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harriet Jacobs. Show all posts

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Quoting Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

As part of my series of Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl posts, I'd like to share my favorite quotes.  These are a few of the moments a sense of truth and/or emotion struck me.  Of course, out of the many residing in the narrative itself.
So on to the favorite quotes:
This one is the opening of Chapter VI, titled The Jealous Mistress.
“I would ten thousand times rather that my children should be half-starved paupers of Ireland than to be the most pampered among the slaves of America.  I would rather drudge out my life on a cotton plantation, till the grave opened to give me rest, than to live with an unprincipled master and a jealous mistress.  The felon’s home in a penitentiary is preferable.  He may repent, and turn from the error of his ways, and so find peace; but it is not so with a favorite slave.  She is not allowed to have any pride of character.  It is deemed a crime in her to wish to be virtuous.”
Slave narratives drive a sympathetic truth, and Jacobs’ opening gave ground to hers.  In the opening quote, she compares a slave's life to other demoralizing circumstances.  And how the latter appears more suitable.  Yet, she also draws a field slave’s existence to a slave caught by the lustful attention of her master.  And for good reason.  Jacobs’ autobiography reveals that level of oppressive torment in detail.  Beginning with her awareness of her bought morals.  Which she isn't willing to give up. 
Hopelessness charges her opening, but the sincerity and intelligence of Jacobs' voice says otherwise.
Further in Chapter VI
“Reader, I draw no imaginary pictures of southern homes.  I am telling you the plain truth.  Yet when victims make their escape from this wild beast of Slavery, northerners consent to act the part of bloodhounds, and hunt the poor fugitive back into his den, ‘full of dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness.’  Nay, more, they are not only willing, but proud, to give their daughters in marriage to slaveholders.  The poor girls have romantic notions of a sunny clime, and of the flowering vines that all the year round shade a happy home.  To what disappointments are they destined!  The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows.  Children of every shade of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him of his own household.  Jealousy and hatred enter the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness.”
It's all twisted.  The South wanted to impress Northerners on how useful and necessary slavery was.  Meanwhile, willing to put out a bounty on a runaway slave.  And one with illusions of finding asylum in the North.  Where they found themselves captured and returned by Northerners for profit.  Additionally, Northerners were sending their daughters south to marry slave owners, for the status.  And of course money.  Everyone was taking advantage of this system.  Jacobs wanted that illusion in itself to be 100% clear. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl | Part One

"In what has become a landmark of American history and literature, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl recounts the incredible but true story of Harriet Jacobs, born a slave in North Carolina in 1813. Her tale gains its importance from her descriptions, in great and painful detail, of the sexual exploitation that daily haunted her life—and the life of every other black female slave. 
As a child, Harriet Jacobs remained blissfully unaware that she was a slave until the deaths of both her mother and a benevolent mistress exposed her to a sexually predatory master, Dr. Flint. Determined to escape, she spends seven years hidden away in a garret in her grandmother’s house, three feet high at its tallest point, with almost no air or light, and with only glimpses of her children to sustain her courage. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, she finally wins her battle for freedom by escaping to the North in 1842. 
A powerful, unflinching portrayal of the brutality of slave life, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl stands alongside Frederick Douglass’s classic autobiographies as one of the most significant slave narratives ever written."
~ From Goodreads

I tried to think up the right approach to writing my thoughts on Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  The multitude of topic threads available to weave seems… well… endless.  Should I even try to stretch each thread out, I don’t believe I’ll ever get anything sown.  Which will leave me further procrastinating the creation of a post.  Nonetheless, as a slave narrative/autobiography, the book takes readers through Jacob’s courageous experience growing up a slave in North Carolina.  Her intimate voice recounts years underneath the thumb of the obsessive and suffocating father of her adolescent owner.  (By rights and a will, Jacobs became the property of a young girl.)  As well as the complications she faces crafting (though severely daring and frightening) her escape to New York.  How she managed to survive her story is almost unbelievable.  Epic and mind-blowing–if you will.  I won't spoil it, but just the thought of her measures gives me phantom pains synonymous with osteoarthritis symptoms.  Still, given the era and desperation of our ancestors, I can picture and welcome such extremes clearly. 
As a slave narrative, Incidents serves the traditional makeup within this area of African-American literature.  The familiar conversations on abolitionism and humanitarianism takes much of the lead.  Followed shortly by the wind of Christian beliefs slaves shielded the violence and horror of racial oppression from.  Or attempted to, anyway.  On the same Christian token, it also give parallels to the religious hypocrisy slave owners proposed to reason with their actions.  (A disgusting thought that turns my stomach each time some slave owner attributes God’s will to shackling a race to harvest tobacco.)  Tie in the book’s footnotes illuminating historical facts/events; Incidents dances into each of the familiar slave narrative elements without missing a beat regarding its purpose.  

And yet, there’s something entirely different and unique about the book.  On the surface, it’s the story of the lengths an enslaved woman will take to hold on to her family in a world designed to rip her from them for profit.  Which is where the sympathetic edge to her slave narrative lie.  And I mention that because slave narratives’ primary focus was to create awareness, via the intimate streams of blunt and dark realities individuals faced within this grotesque system.  And Jacobs served on all fronts.
But so much aside, I really found Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl a critical and necessary read.  And one where I’d like to answer the discussion questions provided by the book in the third half of this post.  However, before, I want to add a few of my favorite quotes/passages in the second half.

PART THREE: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Discussion Questions

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