Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl pt. 2

” ‘Surely there must be some justice in man;’ then I remembered, with a sigh, how slavery perverted all the natural feelings of the human heart.  It gave me a pang to look on my light-hearted boy.  He believed himself free; and to have him brought under the yoke of slavery, would be more than I could bear.  How I longed to have him safely out of the reach of its power!” (159)

“With all my detestation of Dr. Flint, I could hardly wish him a worse punishment, either in this world or that which is to come, than to suffer what I suffered in one single summer.  Yet the laws allowed him to be out in the free air, while I, guiltless of crime, was pent up here, as the only means of avoiding the cruelties the laws allowed him to inflict upon me!” (135)

In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs experienced far less physical discomfort than many other slaves that worked the plantations beside her master’s land.  However, she too experienced psychological pain due to the fact that she was seen as nothing more than a piece of property to her masters Dr. Flint and Mrs. Flint.  In these quotations, Jacobs talks about the internal anguish she feels towards Dr. Flint, particularly after she realizes that her children will soon feel the pain that she has felt for years.  In scenes such as these, we see a strong connection between family and community.

  • Jacobs often states that she does not want the same fate for her children.  Do you think that Jacobs stayed in hiding for so long because she did not want to leave her children behind?  Do her children act as a catalyst or an inhibitor for her desire to be free?
  • There are not very many instances in the novel where we witness the physical abuse of Jacobs, but it is very evident that she is more so mentally enslaved to her master.  Dr. Flint wants to give off the impression that he cares for Jacobs, and seems to treat her as a dog on a leash.  Do you feel as if Jacobs, as a slave in a favorable position, possesses more free will than other slave that work in harsher conditions on plantations?  If so, provide examples.
  • What other characters in this narrative provide examples of the harsh psychological impact of slavery, rather than physical abuse and how does this mental abuse affect their lives?

Scott Luffy

Carley Null

39 thoughts on “Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl pt. 2

  1. Jacob’s (or Brent’s) children act as a catalyst for freedom initially, but her motherly desire to watch over them hinders her complete escape. She hides and watches Benny and Ellen in order to make sure Dr. Flint does not harm them, which detains her for many years. The reader may wonder why Jacobs does not leave the attic and travel North to send for her children later, but a good mother never leaves her children and Jacobs strives be a good woman in every way.

    Jacobs has more free will than some other slaves due to her circumstances, but there are many factors. Because Jacobs does not perform the same hard labor that a plantation slave would have, she has more energy to be willful. After a twelve hour day laboring in the fields, one probably does not have enough energy to exercise mental power. Jacobs, though still worked strenuously around the Flints’ household, does not have to deal with physically demanding work. Also, she is taught to read and write at a young age, which most slaves were not. This give her an advantage over other slaves and allows her to think critically. This aids to her autonomy, as do the teachings of her father. Jacobs did not know she was a slave until she was six years old and her nearly-free father taught his children to act freely.

  2. It does seem that her every act strives to show her as a good woman and that includes sacrificing for the sake of her children. I think Ellen and Benny are both inhibitor and catalyst. Linda had the desire to be free before they came along and once they came her sense of urgency increased to save them from her fate. At the same time though Linda fears leaving them and Dr Flint’s retaliation to punish her and try to force her to come back by taking them or selling them. Staying hidden allows her to hear and see to their welfare.
    Linda has the illusion of free will because she is granted some leeway to refuse Dr Flint’s advances and – before she begins her escape – move about the town. But when it comes down to it, she is still a slave. True, she does not suffer as much direct physical abuse like whippings, but psychological and emotional abuse are no less damaging. And I also argue that hiding in a tiny cramped space for years which caused severe physical harm to her legs was a form of physical abuse. Forced exposure to the elements and prolonged hunger are forms of physical abuse. Her owners did not physically put her there, but she felt it was the safest option, therefore they did force her into that space.
    Having children, spouses, parents, et al ripped away and sold without warning is mental abuse. The constant threat hanging over ones head causes incredible stress. Granting freedom and then taking it away, being captured as a free person and sold elsewhere, escaping and being brought back and punished severely, being told how much worse it is everywhere else – all kinds of emotional and psychological abuse. Hunger and malnutrition add to this list and also are physical abuses.

  3. I think that Ellen and Benny are a catalyst for Linda to obtain her freedom. Though she may not have suffered in the same physical ways as other slaves, she has suffered none the less, and does not want the same fate for her children. Despite the fact that she continues to stay in the crawl space, she has essentially “escaped”. She stays there for so long not for lack of wanting to leave, but because there was no plausible means for her to leave the town without being recognized. There is also the fact that her children are there, and above all else, Linda loves and wants to protect them. Especially when she realizes that Dr. Flint still feels he has ownership over them because his daughter was not “of age” when they were sold.
    I don’t know that it is that Linda has more freewill because of her standing with Dr. Flint, but rather that she has grown up in a family that values their class and standing within the community, even if they were slaves. Her grandmother and father both valued themselves and the children as more then slaves, and instilled this in both the children and grandchildren. Above all else I believe this is what continues to make Linda strive for her freedom, not that because she doesn’t “work as hard,” and she has more free time to think on her own. To want one’s freedom is not an act of the conscious, but an innate right of every person; regardless of their circumstance.

  4. I think the psychological enslavement that Jacobs experiences is worse than the physical enslavement of other slaves. Jacobs does not perform hard labor and therefore spends most of her time mentally contemplating her situation and how completely stuck she really is.

  5. I would argue that Jacob’s children are an inhibitor to her freedom because she has to live in constant worry about them. After her escape she spends a lot of time reflecting on their fates and what will become of them, whether Flint will use them as collateral to get her back or will sell them and she will likely never see them again. However this was not enough baggage to prevent her from escaping.

    Harriet also does suffer a lot of psychological abuse, whereas we saw with Douglass how slaves could be physically abused more. Harriet does have an easier lifestyle than most slaves by being a house slave and not having to do back breaking work. She also is a favorite of Flint’s making her life easier if she were to do as he wished, which she will not. Even after which she is stilled not abused so she holds some of his favor almost constantly.

  6. Jacobs stayed behind because she could not leave her children behind without knowing their fate, until she knew they would be free. I believe her children were both catalyst and inhibitors to her seeking freedom. They were inhibitors because if she did not have children, she could have tried running to the free states sooner, only having herself to worry about, she stayed behind and endured the 7 year confinement to see that she would not lose sight of them in her life. She wanted to know where they were. They were catalyst because I believe it was them that gave her the inner strength and endurance to stay cramped up for so long, it was the hope of a better life for them and not accepting anything less. Her children gave her even more reason to live and to be a free woman.

    Jacobs displays a favorable position, possesses more free will than other slave that work in harsher conditions on plantations by the way she refuses to go to the cottage that was built for her (even thought she is pregnant) and does not recieve punishment.”I replied,”I will never go there. In a few months I shall be a mother. He stood and looked at me in dumb amazement, and left the house without a word.”(62)

    The grandmother recieved a lot of psychological impact by having to put her mistress’s children and family before her own and to watch her children die from the hands of slavery. Also she had to help others in slavery and although she was set free after being on the auction block she was still powerless against the whites to set her family free. She was helpless, she worked hard to set them free but could not so she had to endure their hardships as well because she loved them so much. Just as Jacobs wanted to see her children free, the grandmother wanted her loved ones free as she was free.

  7. Jacob’s desire to be both a good mother/good woman and a free woman seem to be conflicting for her at times. She plots her escape at a time when she’s sure her children will be spared and sold to their father, but all the same her need to be close to them keeps her locked in a crawlspace for years when she could’ve been making the dash for the north, but she has a strong motherly desire to see them as much as possible so that they can remember her and have memories of her like she does of her own mother. Most slaves that ran away tended to move on quickly but her escape in the first 2/3 of the narrative only takes place in two houses. It’s what drives her to escape, her motherly instincts, but it’s also what keeps her tied as long as it does.

  8. I believe that in the beginingJacob’s children act as a catalyst for her esacpe, and though it may seem as if they were a henderance later, they were not. Dr flint was the real hinderance his string desire to find her and his perseverance made it difficult for her to esacpe.I think she had a strong desire within herself from her own exsperiences to be free. I do no think that she lived might have been slighty more priviledged in the fact that she was never beaten, however the mental cruelty was real and present in her life, as well as any other slave. The mental abuse it what kept them in the situation that they were in.

  9. Jacob’s children are her primary concern. In contexts of hiding away for years, the children ostensibly serve as inhibitors… however, in the larger frame of the novel, they are the ultimate catalyst for Jacobs’. She is willing to sacrifice time to insure safety. While spending weeks (or even a single year) could have arguably allowed the children to escape, she stays even longer, in hopes of full security that her and her children’s escapes will be fool-proof.

    I think it could be argued that Jacobs’ experiences a pain more intense than physical. While physical violence is never inflicted upon her, she endures mental, and more importantly, sexual, enslavement, primarily induced by tactics of fear by Dr. Flint. She has to sacrifice her womanhood in order to avoid sexual approaches by Dr. Flint.

    Jacobs’ grandmother could serve as another example of the harsh psychological enslavement of slavery. Like Jacobs, the grandmother does not endure as much physical abuse as many slaves. She is also respected in the community, adding an element of self-worth. The grandmother reminds me of Douglass’ idea of the blind slave remaining ignorant to their freedom. Because she knows the conception of freedom, any instance of enslavement is infinitely multiplied.

  10. I think her hiding was supposed to be strategic and result in her children’s freedom. I think for her having a family is a double edged sword; she wants to be free but she can’t leave them and while she’s enslaved they are her only source of happiness/peace but she is miserable.
    I disagree. I think there are a lot of instances of violence towards Jacobs. She is repetitively hit, grabbed, and held down by Dr. Flint during their fights. I don’t know what you mean by “free will”. She seems to have more power but she also seems to take more risks i.e. talking back, refusing to submit, etc.
    Her children bear the psychological scars of slavery, as does her brother.

  11. Jacobs does not want the same fate she had for her children, and I do believe that is one of the main reasons why she does not fully escape. She stays in hiding for so long, because she wants to escape but knows she has a responsibility to her children, which hinders her from actually fleeing to a free state. I think her children are a catalyst for her to be free, but she also wants to bring them along. I feel that in Jacob’s position she does posses more free will compared to other slaves in harsher conditions. She has a master who admires her but at the same time wants to control her. This gives her the option to have more control over her actions and be treated better, if she chooses to be his mistress, but she refuses.

  12. In response to the first bullet: I think Jacob’s children are the biggest reason she wants to be free. She has said and alluded to several times that her wish for them to not become slaves outweighs any other concern. She has also said that her escape could have been made sooner if she did not have her children. However, once she goes into hiding, the children have nothing to do with her ability/desire to leave. She wishes to leave as soon as possible but for a very long time does not have the oppurtunity. So, what holds her back all those months in her prison was not her children but her circumstances.
    In response to the second bullet: I think that to discuss whether Linda has an easier time of it because of her master’s favor, I would have to decide what kind of abuse is worse: physical or mental. Cruel physical labor and punishment are outwardly visible and therefore measurable. However, while the mental torture Linda endured may not be as visible, it would also be impossible to say what the damage is. Because I cannot reconcile or prove which one of these types of torture are “worse”, I don’t think I can say whether or not Linda had more free will as one who is favored by the master. Who is to say, anyways, without having been in her position.
    In response to the third bullet: I would say Linda’s children suffer most greatly in this narrative from the mentally torturous aspects of slavery. They, so far in the novel, have not been abused physically (except for Ben being thrown across the room by Flint) and therefore have really only experienced the mentally damaging aspects of slavery. They have lost for mother, they live in constant fear of the threat of slavery, and they are frequently threatened by Mr. Flint.

  13. I think once Jacobs became a mother, all her decisions were based around her children. I definitely think she stayed in hiding for so long because she didn’t want to leave her children, but I also think it gave her comfort to be able to “keep an eye on them.” To know her children were safe and happy was her biggest concern and by staying in hiding, she would be not be left to question or worry. I believe as a mother, her drive for freedom was much stronger and deep rooted. Many slaves without children might of given in when Jacobs refused and I believe the love for her children gave her that strength. There is no love stronger than a mother’s love and that is very apparent in this story. Her children are her catalyst for reaching freedom, they give her a powerful reason to fight as hard as she did. In a mother’s eyes, nothing is more important than their children.

    I do not think Jacobs had more free will than other slaves because she was not physically abused badly like many other slaves. Dr. Flint had her as his sexual servant and there is no worse fate for a woman. Physically, pain can fade, but emotionally, pain does not diminish easily, it hangs like a dark cloud over ones head. Dr. Flint was a completely abusive person emotionally towards Jacob’s and for that reason he had strong control over her.

    A specific event in this book stands out in my head when I think of the psychological and emotional abuse and that is some of the church services. Those sermons that preached obedience and slavery disgusted me. Those horrible sermons were a way to brainwash slaves using religion and God, which is so wrong.

  14. I do not think that Jacobs stayed in hiding for so long because she did not want to leave her children. I think that she wanted her children to be freed and the only way that she could possibly get them free from Dr. Flint’s was by running away. By running away Dr. Flint would search and search in hopes of finding her as he did and of course would end up with no luck. He would have no use for Jacobs’ children and so he would sell them and they would become free. This was her plan all along and even though she was shut up away from the world she knew her children were living a better life than that of a slave.
    I believe that Jacobs did not have a hard life as a slave in regards to physical abuse because she was raped but not whipped and thrown out into the fields and beaten daily. Yes it is a terrible thing that Jacobs was raped and she was beaten down emotionally and mentally but for some reason I feel like she did not have an extremely terrible life as a slave. I feel for the woman, I really do because no one wants to be raped and I know that she suffered from the abuse, but she was allowed to wander around and live outside of slave quarters. Other examples of this include Dr. Flint trying to brainwash Jacobs’ family members into telling them where she had escaped to. Of course they were smarter than he thought they were and were able to disregard his cunning ways of deception.

  15. Jacobs definitely remains in hiding for the sake of her children. She knows that not only would it be hard to leave her children, although they think she is gone, she also has to think that Dr. Flint might someday leverage the children for her return. She also wants to see them grow and see how their lives pan out. I imagine if they had been sold she would have left. On the other hand, she also has the possibility of having her children freed once Dr. Flint sells them off. He has no need for them, and at present–as the person above me said–they have the possibility of living a life better than that of a slave. Jacobs just had to figure out a way to do that.

  16. I feel that Jacobs’ children acted as both catalysts and inhibitors for her freedom. On the one hand, her children are part of the reason she pushes for freedom so hard. On the other, she is incredibly encumbered by them. Without her children, escape would be much easier. Speculation, of course, serves little purpose in literary analysis.

    Jacobs absolutely does not have more free will than other slaves. Her favored position makes her more liable to rape and sexual coercion, the avoidance of which changes her entire future. As Jacobs so carefully documents, slavery’s grasp is suffocating, whether you are in the fields or in the house.

    The psychological effects of slavery are far-reaching. When Jacobs is in hiding above the shed, her children and brother are imprisoned: “[…]William would hold them up to the grated window while she chatted with them” (114). This image is absolutely heartbreaking to me: the totally brutal and futile attempt to force a mother out of hiding by imprisoning her children.

  17. Like a lot of people have said, her children can be seen as both a catalyst and inhibitor. She cannot leave them behind, but at the same time it’s difficult for her to do anything about the situation from where she is. She wanted to fight for the sake of her children and they were the reason she stayed in hiding for as long as she did. I think that played into the psychological damage on her. The battle between “do I stay or do I go”…both sides of that had benefits and downsides.
    There were a few instances in the narrative when people had to watch their children be sold into slavery, and that contributes to the psychological side. We do not hear as much about the violence, like we did in Douglass, but rather the damage that these situations had on the mind.

  18. Aunt Martha is a different character that also experiences psychological abuse, rather than physical. She has to see her family members (children and grandchildren) be sold off to strangers as well as be abused by their masters. I feel that witnessing a family member have to go through physical abuse can be very psychologically damaging.

  19. Harriet Jacobs sees hiding as a way to save her family. With her hiding in her grandmothers crawlspace she’s was able to escape. With her escaping she could get her life straight for her children. By her children being with their father she figured they would be spared. Moving to the North to give enough profit to give to her children and start a better life was her goal. It is hard for a mother to stay far away from their offspring. Jacob was lucky to have her grandma help her and to have the children’s father purchase them. Jacob goes back to get her children so its not like she forgets them on her journey.

  20. Jacobs desire to be free occurred well before she had children. The thought of her children and the opinion of her grandmother kept Jacobs from acting too rashly until the risk was to great and she had to go into hiding.
    She definitely has more power than the other slaves. She is not an equal but you can see her fighting for equality in the way she talks to Flint. She is able to stand up for herself and that requires freewill. I could be this freewill that makes Dr. Flint want to conquer her so much.

  21. If Jacobs was interested in self-preservation, she would have cut her losses and abandoned her children. But motherhood is a responsibility she recognizes and is called to action by it. It could be said that Jacobs desires freedom that much more due to the fact that she has children who she wants to see happy and free from the torment that is their fated existence as slaves. Physically, her children hold her back from freedom. Emotionally, their simple existence empowers her to brave certain failure and loss to see them cared for.
    While it is true that Jacobs was not physically harmed as much as some other slaves, she was under constant psychological duress. Torture of the body and torture of the mind can be seen as having the same effects to the psyche. The main difference between these two forms of torment is that the signs of physical torture can be spotted by the naked eye. How Jacobs dealt with her situation is purely up to her willpower. She was strong so she endured.

  22. I feel that Jacobs stays behind for her children, it was her plan to “escape” so that her children would be sold and be safer than where they were at the Flints. She stays behind to try and see when that time comes and make sure she doesn’t leave without them being safe.
    I think that Benny and Ellen are catalyst for her wanting to be free, she doesn’t want her children to have the same life as her, being sexually abused and treated as pretty much worthless, so she goes to great efforts to try and create a better life for them, though not thoroughly planned out.

  23. Her children initially acted as catalyst for her desire to be free but then ends up inhibiting her from actually obtaining this desired freedom when her motherly instincts come in to protect them. This motherly instinct costs her not only her freedom but also inflicted many emotional confusions and problems amongst her family and acquaintances. Essentially, she lives her freedom through her children.

    Other characters who have suffered the harsh psychological impact of slavery are Jacobs’ children. Although they are more fortunate than most slave children and lived a somewhat free live, they still suffered from things that other slaves go through. They are essentially fatherless and motherless throughout the years that Jacobs went into hiding and are then separated from their own family to other people who they barely have a close relation with. The sense of never being able to have a stable family environment and the constant threat from Dr. Flint emotionally distresses the children. They indirectly feel the emotional impact of slavery through being born part black not from having experienced slavery first-hand.

  24. Jacobs’ children definitely act as a catalyst for her wanting to be free. It’s not until she hears that her son will be brought to the plantation that she forms definite plans to leave. While her grandmother implores her to stay on account of the children, I think Jacobs knows better–that Dr. Flint isn’t interested in the children if they can’t bring him any closer to Jacobs. Which is part of the reason why she stays in hiding so long; at first when her family is jailed, she couldn’t be entirely sure that Dr. Flint wasn’t just calling her bluff. She stays in hiding until after their freedom has been bought, which shows a greater dedication to them than even she would let on. It’s because she’s able to be patient and have faith that her children are freed, and her running away succeeds in its original intent.

  25. I absolutely believe that Harriet Jacobs stayed in hiding for so long for many different reasons, one of those being her children. She did not want to abandon them to run away and have her freedom. Her motherly instincts would not allow her to do so.

    As far as Jacobs’ free will i believe it is less than that of an average slave. Her mind is in an emotional jail and she has nothing physical to show for the abuse she is going through. She is treated decently in the eyes of strangers but is going through mental hell. She is put in a tougher position because Dr. Flint has an interest in her, making her every move watched more than another slave.

  26. I agree with those who said her children were at first a catalyst for her to gain her freedom, but then they were also her pull back to the South, and thus to danger. But I believe they were always what gave her the stamina and fortitude to withstand such long anxieties and discomforts. While hiding in that cramped space, it was through the thought and sightings of her children that she lived so long goal in mind.

    I think that her ability to read is one way in which she had more intellectual freedom than most slaves. She often spoke back to Dr. Flint, which shows quite a bit of resilience and even some freedom on her part. Like Douglass, I think that reading gave her more opportunity for escape, as well as providing a lifeline between her and the North through letters and written word that came in.

  27. In my opinion, I think that Jacobs’ stayed in the attic so long instead of running away instantly because she wanted to watch over her children. She was a mother and wanted to make sure her children were okay. It looks like she just didn’t have the conscience of leaving her children and never looking back until she could make money and pay for them. She was in the here and now and wanted to take care of her children from afar by watching them. It’s just an instinct she seems to have like many mothers: watch over and protect your children. In that situation I don’t know if I would have the heart to run away and leave my children as well. That’s just a hard decision to come up with.
    I don’t think that Jacobs’ had more free will, but I do think that she was in a favorable position. She didn’t have as much to do as the other slaves, and she wasn’t watched every second of every day making it easier for her to be able to run away. She was still a slave though, so I can’t agree with her having more free will. A slave is a slave no matter what goes on, and unfortunately there’s not a lot of free will there. Again though, her situation did make it easier for her to be able to run away though, so that was in her favor.

  28. Obviously her children are a major reason why she never really runs away from the area she’s been in and also why when she did, briefly, she came back. This is commonly seen in slave narratives, where a mother will run away, but return for her children. Harriet Tubman came back, for example. Or, they take them when they run because they are small, which we see with Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I think Jacobs is trying to say something about motherhood here. About how motherhood is the strongest force a woman can feel, and thus is able and will do anything to protect the livelihood of her children.

    Also, Jacobs does have more free will than most slaves, but I don’t think that because of it, she thinks herself as better than anyone else. Jacobs uses her knowledge of language to teach others, like Uncle Fred. But, she knows the consequences of such actions and still continues to do so. I think that her free will allows her to help other slaves in the community before she goes into hiding.

  29. While slavery itself is the catalyst for her desire for freedom the fate of her children drive her to this end as well. Unlike the majority of slave narratives with male authors escaping to the north isn’t as easy for Jacobs who has this bond with her children and can’t leave them or travel with them. It is a peculiar hardship she faces within the genre, to which she finds a more peculiar solution to by hiding in the garret.

    As the Jacobs’ treatment from Dr. Flint, the threat of sexual violence constantly bearing down, year after year, is a kind of hell that hopefully her audience cannot really imagine. This being the case one pauses before comparing it to other forms of hell, such as death in fields from labor and sun or bleeding out on the whipping post. However, Jacobs herself does mention that she is lucky to have lived in a town “Where everyone knew each other,” as Dr. Flint’s fear of being shamed kept him from trying to enact his will on her, which would most likely end in her death.

  30. Jacob’s piece really points back to Grimke’s preface to Fredrick Douglass’ in that it is illustrarting the “woman’s role” in abolishing slavery. It can be noted that Jacob’s narrative is much less physically explicit; focused on the psychological afflictions of being, nit just a woman, but specifically a mother. The strength of Jacobs’ narrative is emulated in its sentimentality.
    To answer your first question, Jacobs’ does remain living under such severe conditions for her children and speaks with such emotion on their introduction to slavery because a child’s innocence is a sacred
    entity to all mothers (at least under the current social construct of “good Christian domesticity”). This is Jacobs’ audience and sentimentality her vessel for the project while Douglass is relying on the physical pain or perhaps the sentimentality of he diminished masculinity and male ego.

  31. As a good mother, Jacobs wants to know that her children are okay and safe from Flint. That protective need has made her escape a more difficult transaction. Her children are the force of her wanting to escape but, she still wants to be able to stand by her word that she will never let them be treated as slaves.

    I feel that Jacobs has a lot more free will than other slaves. Jacobs has been handled roughly as a slave but, in moderation. As well as, Jacobs has the full ability to read and write. For Douglass, the ability to read and write gave him the inner strength that he needed, and an ability to provide for himself.

    For Jacobs, she lived a pretty sheltered life and has the ability to get educated, as well as escape the extreme conditions of slavery. The strongest feeling of slavery that Jacob’s has is “mental enslavement”. Her family has raised itself as a strong family that will not hold them selves to the standrad of slavery. They only seem to be considered slaves by legality. So After Jacobs lost her mother and father to protect her and she was thrown into actual slavery, she seemed to be more mental bound than physically. As stated above, she was roughly handled, but not to the extremes read in other slave narratives.

  32. I believe that in Mothers, children are always a catalyst for change. Of course Jacobs children act as a catalyst for her pursuit of freedom, how could they not? She becomes responsible for their lives as well as her own, how much pain would it cause you to look into a childs eyes and tell them they will never be better than they are now, that your families story is repetitive and generational? Do the children present a burden to Jacobs? Yes, but only in the physical sense, which Douglass has said was the easiest burden to bear.
    I’m not sure if you could call what Jacobs possesses “free-will”, any action you do under the possession of another human being is tainted by the knowledge of slavery. Anything you do in that power struggle is not your own choice, I kind of want to draw a parallel between Jacobs narrative and Battered Woman Syndrome in that there is that sort of horrible power imbalance between her and her master. It’s grotesque. She certainly has more autonomy, she can learn to read, travel. Autonomy isn’t free-will though, in this book free-will starts when a slave runs away.
    I think that the most heartbreaking character in this book is Jacobs grandmother. Here is a woman who is powerful, self-confident and yet she was still a slave for so long. She’s a subjugated matriarch which is a weird and terrible thing.

  33. Jacobs’ children act as both a catalyst and an inhibitor of her escape. Almost every time she looks at them, she becomes depressed at facing the fact that, one day, they too will feel the pain of being treated as chattel. She yearns for freedom for herself and her children, but, as they are so young, they would only be a hindrance during an escape.
    I feel Jacobs does possess more free will than other slaves might have possessed. Not only is she a domestic servant (which is arguably better or worse), but Dr. Flint repeatedly states that Jacobs is not his property, but his daughters. Because of that, it seems that Dr. Flint struggles in a position of power over Jacobs. She constantly talks back to Dr. Flint and tells him her honest feelings, even if she knows it is not what he wants to hear. She does experience physical abuse from time to time. It seems that every time they speak to each other, Jacobs talks back, and he becomes so outraged that he begins to hit her. Her grandmother steps in on some occasions.

  34. I believe that Jacobs stayed in hiding to be close to her children and plan. Sometimes I think, with parenting, what seems like the most selfish decision is at times the most selfless and difficult. She needed to be on her own to plan and take care of herself. The children were young and she knew they’d be kept alive because they were strong working hands and she was gone. She kept great watch over them and planned for the family. They are clearly a catalyst for her desire to find freedom. I don’t believe that Jacobs has more free will than other slaves because although it isn’t clearly stated, she is sexually enslaved to her master. I believe she is stronger and smarter than most slaves, therefore, her will is stronger. She created that freedom for herself though, it has nothing to do with Flint’s ownership of her. Both Aunt Martha and the grandmother are the oldest characters shown to experience loss of control of the destiny of their children. The grandmother chose the larger cause of her people and what she thought was right over her own family and paid the psychological price. Martha’s children were taken from her and abused by their owners in front of her. The children, however, are my first thought. I can’t imagine feeling like your mother left you in slavery every day and wondering what day, what moment, what it was going to take for your owner to snap in his anger at your mother, who you have no control over, and take it out on you.

  35. Initially in Jacob’s want for freedom her children are a catalyst. As she draws nearer to leaving them her fear of what may happen to them starts to inhibit her.
    As a slave she does have a bit of a favorable position. In the beginning she had never been beaten and even still the way she speaks to Dr. Flint would not be allowed in a normal slave household. The down side of her slave life though is all of the psychological abuse. It almost is enough to cancel out all of her free will. She is tortured by it daily and even in her escape its affects haunt her.
    Jacob’s children I believe suffer a lot of psychological abuse. When they were very small they had to watch and endure the pain that their mother was facing. As they grow older they are suffering the abuse of not having a mother or father and suffering the effects of their mother’s absence. The most psychologically tortured in the story though is Jacob’s grandmother she has to endure the pain of all her children because of how much she cares for them and wants them to have freedom.

  36. I feel that at first her children acted as a catalyst for her to be free but for the simply fact that they would not be able to be free with her if she had left was the main thing that kept her back . As a mother her biggest concern was no longer getting her freedom but getting the freedom for her family so that they would not have to endure some of the hardships she has faced .

    I feel that in reality she was sexually abused by her master however we never see that come right out in the book .However you do see the process of her spirit and self worth being broken down dramatically from the moment she found out her beloved master did not leave her with her freedom . It only gets worst the moment she step foot on Dr. Flints property . I do see her as being a little more privaledge seeing as she does not have to experience the harsh realities and climates and underfeeding and underdressing that the field slaves do however I do feel that she has suffered greatly psychologically because unlike the field slave she knew exactly what was going on and went from almost being treated as an educated equal to being stripped to nothing and that is quite traumatic in itself .

  37. Benjamin also endures psychological torture. In chapter 4, Jacobs explains that he had an unusual amount of self-worth for a slave, making him rebellious and insubordinate to Dr. Flint. After being whipped and beaten several times in an attempt to put him in his place, Benjamin is left with a diminished feeling of validity as a human and dramatically lowered self-esteem.

  38. Jacobs stayed in hiding because revealing herself could mean separation or death for her and her children. Her desire to be free is unwavering, but her actions towards attaining freedom are inhibited by the presence of her children.

    The most favorite slave is still a slave. It’s that whole “gilded cage” thing. Free will isn’t the issue here. Jacobs is favored by the master and therefore doesn’t have to be subject to as much physical work, but her life still sucks.

    For Jacobs, the mental abuse from being a slave is more impactful than the physical abuse. A good example of this is her decision to get raped by one white dude to avoid being raped by another white dude, and then subsequently she gets rape shamed by her grandmother.

  39. Jacobs has a dualistic view of her children in relation to her escape. On one hand, she goes through all sorts of turmoil to try and secure them a free future; on the other, she herself is confined to her nook for years in a strained attempt to watch over them and remotely protect them from the cruel Dr. Flint.
    The concept of being a slave of high regards with the owner is not that advantageous. Jacobs isn’t worked as hard, but receives equal or more mental and physical abuse because of her esteemed position and “favor”. The ongoing pressure to have sex with Flint is what causes her to lose some of her “good woman”hood when she enters a relationship with Mr. Sands, only to lose more face and self respect as she is betrayed by him and shunned by her “pure” grandmother.

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