Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (Five Stars)

Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (Five Stars)

“Northerners know nothing at all about slavery. They think it is perpetual bondage only. They have no conception of the depth of degradation involved in that word, slavery; if they had, they would never cease their efforts until so horrible a system was overthrown.”
—A Woman of North Carolina.

Primary source on living as a slave. Beats fictionalized and modernized alternatives. Slavery was and is a horrible institution, but it existed in most cultures at most times in history. Moderns do themselves a disservice if they relay on modern representations of the conditions and tolls of slavery. This is the true account of a true person.

No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere of licentiousness and fear.

Approximately 4% of the Africans brought to the Americans as slaves came to the now United States. The circumstances and life probabilities of those others were even worse than the American slaves, but even though the slave-owners and the culture (South and North) that supported them thought the institution benign if not positive, in fact the social, emotional, and physical outcome was despicable.

There may be sophistry in all this [her explanation of being impregnated by a white man, not her owner]; but the condition of a slave confuses all principles of morality, and, in fact, renders the practice of them impossible.

Permeated with high ideals and scripture references which may be opaque to modern readers. Nonetheless the reader who sticks with it receives a deeper understanding of the institution beyond the white-wash and simplicity of modern accounts. Northerners come under Harriet’s condemnation as well as the South.

I knew my old master was rather skittish of Massachusetts. I relied on her love of freedom, and felt safe on her soil. I am now aware that I honored the old Commonwealth beyond her deserts.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (Five Stars)

  1. Just ask any of those who claimed to own enslaved people, or their descendants, whether they would willingly change places for life, and all the pro-slavery arguments melt into the despicable lava they are.

    They knew perfectly well what they were doing.

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