Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Read these instructions carefully!!!
One of the major issues in the study of slavery and emancipation is that it seems, on the surface, to be a history of victimization and nothing more. While it is absolutely true that slaves were victimized in thousands of cruel and unimaginable ways, it is not true that they were mere victims.
Slaves, like all human beings, are three dimensional characters who are more than just their ‘station’ in life. What is more, our understanding of slaves’ lives depends on time period, region, crops, gender, age, size of farm or plantation, and so on. Your task here is to elucidate some of these factors as they appear Harriet Jacobs’ autobiography.
Write a 5-page essay in which you ruminate on the problem of emancipation in American history. Jacobs’ book is written to detail the horrors of slavery, but it is also the journey of one woman (and her family) as she makes her way toward emancipation. (Slavery is terrifically important to understand in a historical context because there is more of it worldwide today than when Harriet was alive.
Slavery continues to be a global human rights issue, so think of this book as something that you might use to understand the complexity of a major social problem – this is not just a matter of something being ‘in the past’ – slavery is very much alive!)
Answer the following questions:
- In what ways is Harriet a victim of the system of slavery? How does she fight back?
- In what ways is Harriet’s gender a factor in how she is treated? How does being a woman slave make the story different? Moreover, how does her gender identity change over time? How does it change and why?
- As a young slave girl of fifteen years, Linda is forced to choose between the virtues instilled by her much respected Grandmother and her need to assert herself sexually to avoid further enslavement. Analyze this situation in light of American slavery.
- Where do we see evidence of Harriet’s attempts at self-empowerment and agency? We know that slaves were held in bondage against their will, but we also know that slaves responded in myriad active ways to forge their own freedom. Over the course of this story, how does Harriet empower herself against her owner and against the system of slavery?
- Harriet does not exist in vacuum, even when she goes into hiding. We know that slavery is a national phenomenon, supported by members of society who don’t even own slaves. Where can you find evidence of this in the book?
- Your paper must be at least 5 pages.
- Your paper must have a thesis.
- Your paper must have topic sentences and supporting paragraphs, as well as a conclusion in which you restate your thesis, offer no new evidence, but reminds your reader of what is most important about your topic.
- Must reflect your understanding of class notes and discussions. You are responsible for making sure that you have comprehended and studied this material.
- DO NOT use the internet to look up information – you must use material from class.