Again, advanced students may wish to read the entire 1860 narrative by Jacobs. In this section, however, I suggest the teacher focus upon the following chapters that are featured in the Washington text as well as that prepared by Henry Gates, Jr.:
The Trials of Girlhoodwhich introduces the lecherous white master Dr. Flint who pursues Linda relentlessly.
The Jealous Mistresswhich reveals how Linda uses the jealousy of the white mistress to protect her from Dr. Flint’s sexual advances.
The Loverwhich laments the futility of a slave woman to choose her own husband under slavery’s bitter yoke.
A Perilous Passage in The Slave Girl’s Lifewhich reveals Linda’s clever plot to repel Dr. Flint by selecting a kind white man to be the father of her children.
The New Tie to Lifewhich relates further details that Mr. Sands, the father of Linda’s child, had promised to care for their child and to perhaps buy Linda.
Another Link to Lifewhich tells of the baptism of Linda’s child.
Continued Persecutionswhich shows Linda’s grandmother, a free black, to have power and courage to rebuke Dr. Flint when he comes into her house to torment Linda.
Scenes at the Plantationwhich introduces Miss Fanny, the great aunt of Mr. Flint who for fifty dollars had purchased the freedom of Linda’s grandmother.
Free at Lastwhich tells of the sudden death of Dr. Flint after Linda’s long-awaited flight to New England to freedom where she rejoins her children.
1. Why did Harriet Jacobs and her collaborators publish this narrative under the pseudonym Linda Brent?
2. Why might any critic consider the work to lack authenticity?
3. What central themes are presented in this narrative that are in sharp contrast to those central themes in classic male slave narratives?
4. Is the heroism of Linda significantly compromised because she has chosen to have sexual relations with Mr. Sands, a white neighbor?
5. Discuss the symbolism in Linda’s self-imposed imprisonment in her grandmother’s cramped attic space as a means of attaining freedom. How does this compare to the male slave narrative which deals with flight to achieve manhood and freedom?
1. Have students recreate the cramped attic space in the classroom by using chairs and tables. Let them keep a log of their experiences.
2. View the video “Digging for Slaves” A and L Footsteps which gives an archaeological and historical view of slavery in colonial Williamsburg and at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.
V. Slave Revolts and Escapes
Many slaves were able to escape to freedom using a variety of methods. Yet escape remained a dangerous proposition. Capture meant torture and death. Also, there was to ponder the terrible, unpredictable fate of those loved ones left behind. Charles Chesnutt in “Po’ Sandy” from
The Conjure Woman
creates a fictional account of the escape a slave planned with the help of a conjure woman, a person with supernatural powers to transform slaves into animals and trees.
Julius McAdoo, a colored coachman, tells the story to a white Yankee couple who have chose to settle in central North Carolina on an old plantation. One day the wife of the couple requested her husband to build a new kitchen. To save money the husband wanted to tear down the old schoolhouse nearby and use the lumber for the new project. Uncle Julius persuades them to abandon to construction by weaving a yarn about “Po’ Sandy.”
Sandy was a “good nigger” whose first slave wife was sold right from under him by an insensitive master while Sandy was away at work. His second wife Tenie, a conjure woman, told Sandy she had the powers to turn him into any animal to escape being sent off to work again. Instead of being turned into an animal, Sandy is turned into a big pine tree. Convinced that Sandy had escaped, Sandy’s cruel master accused other slaves and Tenie of assisting in the “crime.”
The plan to wait until the master gave up looking for Sandy backfired. While Tenie was distracted to nurse young Master Dunkin’s sick wife, Master Marabo needed lumber to build a new kitchen. The old pine tree, Sandy, became the source of that lumber. The new kitchen was of no use to the master for it was now haunted with the moanings and groanings of Sandy’s spirit. The master’s wife was afraid to go out in the yard after dark. The kitchen was dismantled and converted into an old schoolhouse building that the new Yankee owners are now considering to tear down.
Uncle Julius convinces the couple that the lumber is still haunted. New lumbar was purchased to build the kitchen. The couple learns later that Uncle Julius used the schoolhouse himself for church meetings.
Martin B. Duberman recounts in his play “In White America” that “slaves constantly tried to flee the plantation and head north to freedom. Efforts by their masters to trace them led, in a few rare cases, to an exchange of letters: (Duberman, 479)
Mrs. Sarah Logue: To Jarm: . . . I write you these lines to let you know the situation we are in,partly in consequence of your running away and stealing Old Rock, our fine mare. Though we got the mare back, she never was worth much after you took her. If you will send me one thousand dollars, and pay for the old mare, I will give up all claim I have to you. In consequence of your running away, we had to sell Abe and Ann and twelve acres of land; and I want you to send me the money, that I may be able to redeem the land. If you do not comply with my request, I will sell you to someone else, and you may rest assured that the time is not far distant when things will be changed with you. A word to the wise is sufficient . . . You know that we reared you as we reared our own children.
Mrs. Sarah Logue
Jarm: Mrs. Sarah Logue: . . . Had you a woman’s heart, you never could have sold my only remaining brother and sister, because I put myself beyond your power to convert me into money.
You sold my brother and sister, Abe and Ann, and twelve acres of land . . . Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping post? Did you raise them to be driven off, bound to a coffle in chains? . . .
Did you think to terrify me by presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with scorn and contempt. I will not bulge on hair’s breath. I will not breathe a shorter breath . . . I stand among free people. (Duberman, 480)
Rebellion, revolt were alternatives to running away. Duberman tells of the slave Nat Turner, who in 1831 led other slaves in a bloody battle against their masters in Southhampton, Virginia:
Nat Turner: I was thirty-five years of age the second of October last, and born the property of Benjamin Turner. In my childhood a circumstance occurred which made an indelible impression on my mind . . . Being at play with other children, when three or four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother, overhearing, said has happened before I was born. I stuck to my story, however, and related some other things which went, in her opinion, to confirm it. Others being called on, were greatly astonished, and caused them to say, in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet . . .
Above quoted passages reprinted by permission from
I studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer. I obtained influence over the minds of my fellow servants . . . by the communion of the Spirit . . . they believe and said my wisdom came from God.
About this time I had a visionI saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkenedthe thunder rolled in the heavens, and blood flowed in streamsand I heard a voice saying, “Such is your luck, such you are called to see; and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely hear it.” I communicated the great work laid out for me to do. It was quickly agreed, neither age nor sex was to be spared.
It was my object to carry terror and devastation wherever we went. We killed Mrs. Waller and ten children. Then we started for Mr. William Williams . . . Mrs. Williams fled, but she was pursued, overtaken, and after showing her the mangled body of her lifeless husband, she was told to get down and lay by his side, where she was shot dead. The white men pursued and fired on us several times. Five or six of my men were wounded, but none left on the field . . . Finding myself defeated . . . I gave up all hope for the present . . . I was taken, a fortnight afterwards in a little hole I had dug out with my sword. I am here with chains, and willing to suffer the fate that awaits me. (Duberman, 480-81)
“In White America” ©
1964 by Houghton Mifflin