Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by HerselfIncidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
by Harriet Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl / 0-674-44746-8

Jacobs' incredible autobiography was published shortly after Stowe's famous "Uncle Tom's Cabin", and yet would never attain the same level of popularity. Stowe's work, for all its virtues, is to modern eyes didactic - frequently breaking the narrative to tell the reader what they are meant to take from a scene. Jacobs' "Incidents", however, is written freely and easily - relating the salient points of her life and rarely breaking narrative to tell the reader what to think.

Her history is merely presented as is, and the result is immensely more readable than other contemporary works. Unfortunately, Jacobs' work was doomed to be far less popular, at least in part because the material was considered too salacious - she actually includes men in her novel, and not all her encounters are strictly 'forced', in the sense that some liaisons are contracted for convenience and safety, if not always for love.

Amusingly, these "flaws" in Jacobs' character make her narrative that more interesting and insightful to read. It is relevant and worth knowing that slaves sometimes felt obligated to please certain men in order to secure safety or basic necessities. Jacobs determination to survive and thrive within the system that oppresses her causes us to admire her and to enjoy her narrative as we hope for some kind of happiness and success in her life of few options, none of them good. If you have any interest at all in slavery or the American Civil War, I highly recommend this narrative.

~ Ana Mardoll

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