Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
(ca. 1813-1897)

Things to Consider:

** Homework Questions ** ( See Q's for Part Two   More In-Depth Q's )
217: 220: 225: 227: 230: 231: 237: 239: 240:
Other Discussion Questions:
219: 222: 223: 224: 227: 230: 236: 239:
** Homework Questions:  Part Two **
Ch. 13 handout:
245: 250: 251: 253: 256: 258: 259: 264: 269:
Other Discussion Questions:
Ch. 13 handout:
243: 244: 252: 260: 264: 266: 267: 268:
Questions for Chapters not Included in this Edition (Page #s refer to 1st Ed.):
338: 341: 342: 349: 350: 377: 400: 401: 402: 403: 405: 407: 410: 412: 414: 415: 417: 419:
More Complex Questions:
1. In the introduction to another edition of Jacobs’ text, the editors provide a quote from Houston Baker:

The voice of the unwritten self, once it is subjected to the linguistic codes, literary conventions, and audience expectations of a literate population, is perhaps never again the authentic voice of black American slavery.  It is, rather, the voice of a self transformed by an autobiographical act into a sharer in the general public discourse about slavery.   (373)
Explain what Baker is saying in this quote and how it relates to the Jacobs text. Refer to specific passages in your response. (It might be helpful to look at those parts of her text where Jacobs, or others, specifically describes writing).
2. Jacobs explains that “it was a crime for a slave to tell who was the father of her child” (222). Why might this be so? How would such a prohibition affect the relationships between slaves and masters and between slaves and other slaves? Refer to other passages in your response.
3. Jacobs describes her grandmother: “Most earnestly did she strive to make us feel that it was the will of God: that He had seen fit to place us under such circumstances; and though it seemed hard, we ought to pray for contentment” (224).

Explain her grandmother’s rationale here. Also, utilizing examples from other parts of the text (page 220 or 227, perhaps), explain how religion could be seen as both a positive and negative force in the lives of African American slaves. (Another example: the “mystic clock” reference on 228).

4. Jacobs says, “The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage” (230).

What is she talking about here? Why would mistresses feel jealousy and rage for their female slaves instead of protecting them and being angry at the masters who rape them? How does this phenomenon affect Jacobs’s life choices in the text? Refer to specific passages in your response.

5. Consider this quote from Written By Herself, by Frances Smith Foster, page 95:

Like most slave narrators, Jacobs relates examples from her own experience to represent the kinds of physical abuse and sufferings inherent in slave life.  But male slave narrators tended to tell this story as humanity lost, then regained.  They depict themselves as conditioned into accepting themselves as chattel then as awakening to their humanity and the possibilities of living self-defined lives. They claim their humanity by separating themselves from other slaves and fleeing to the free northern states.  Jacobs, on the other hand, depicts herself as the young and feisty Linda Brent, a slave girl who knows herself to be an individual of value and who is decidedly aggressive in defending the right to self-determination against those who claimed otherwise.  Harriet Jacobs's treatment of conflict, dominion, and power is more complex and varied than that of the male narrators.
Having read Equiano and Douglass (see, for example, 300), do you agree or disagree with Foster's argument?  Does either Equiano or Douglass describe himself as accepting his status as "chattel"?  Is Jacobs/Brent more aggressive in defending her self and her identity?  Explain.

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