Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Book #30

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

The true story of an individual's struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradation in North Carolina to liberty and reunion with her children in the North.

I found this very difficult to read, for many reasons. To think that a woman could be sold and used as property is utterly unfathomable to me, least of all that it could happen in a time not so deep in the past. That the author of this incredibly story had to go to the lengths she did just to have command of her own life, and the lives of her children, is chillingly breathtaking. That she was hunted, abused, and lived in fear daily, is something that will stay with me for a very long time.

Harriet's memoirs paint the scene of slavery as only it truly could have been: bleak, hopeless, and entirely inhuman. She writes with impressive control, and the emotions of one who has numbed herself to the past. We are attracted to her immediately, and follow her perils with concern. This allowed the events to strike me even more harrowingly than could be expected; her composure and her large heart made the crimes against her all the more disgusting.

Although I'd urge you to do so, there's no real need to read these recountings to understand Harriet. Her true and honourable character can be defined by the fact this book was written in order to highlight the sufferings and complexities many other women in her situation were still experiencing. She has painfully experienced her turmoils all over again with her only motive being to invoke action from abolitionists.

An entirely dignified account, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gives us a real picture of slavery, and particularly how this impacted women. She breaks from her bonds, but leaves us with the picture of those who weren't able to achieve this, or who, indeed, were still struggling at the time of writing.

This is such an important document to help us understand the brutality of our ancestors, and the struggles they forced upon their fellow people. Although slavery has been abolished, there are thousands of teachings to be gained from this short narrative. Harriet Jacobs is inspiring, and I hope she can somehow see the impact her memoirs have had, and will have.

There is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men.

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