Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Click the image above or the link to purchase “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs
After watching the movie 12 Years a Slave, I visited Amazon to check out reviews of the book. Amazon’s recommendation feature suggested I also check out Black Boy by Richard Wright and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. There was a waiting list for 12 Years a Slave at my local library so I decided to read the other two books that were recommended by Amazon while I waited.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a slave narrative and quite similar in theme to 12 Years a Slave. The main difference between the two is that the protagonist of Incidents is a female who was born into slavery. The book recounts Harriet Jacobs’ life from early childhood to about her late twenties or early thirties. Harriet used the name Linda Brent as her pseudonym to preserve her and her family’s safety.
I am very aware that slavery existed but it was still very unreal to imagine that there was a time in fairly recent history when human beings owned and sold other human beings and society found it acceptable. The narrative’s very personal perspective made this point more real yet still completely unbelievable to me. There were several incidents that I found terribly inhumane and completely lacking in human decency and compassion. However, the book was especially heartbreaking when it delved into the experience of children growing up in a society where they could be taken out of their mother’s arms on a whim and then growing up to face the real fear of possibly losing their own children to slavery and being powerless to stop it. It’s crazy that the difference between spending your childhood and adulthood with loving parents, friends, and family or being separated never to see them again was based someone else’s day-to-day mood or financial circumstances.
There’s been some controversy over whether or not the book was actually about a real person or a fictionalized account intended to support abolitionism. Honestly, I had some concerns while reading the book because the narrative was moving but the writing style seemed a bit weird. In the book, Linda knew how to read and write but didn’t seem to have received a formal education nor did she seem to have regular access to books. The writing style was clunky and distracting at times but the vocabulary was relatively more sophisticated than I expected. The story seemed to possibly be based on facts but the writing style made me think that Linda/Harriet either did not write this or did not write this alone. However, it is possible that Harriet was able to improve her education and expand her knowledge later in life but prior to writing her book.
Whether completely fact based or not, it doesn’t take away from the story. The writing style is easy to overlook and some might not be bothered by it at all. I certainly recommend the book, it’s not anything that you’ll struggle to get through and you’ll probably find it to be a pretty quick read. I don’t think the book is particularly polarizing but it could probably start some pretty good discussions so it could be a good choice for a book club.African American, autobiography, classics, history, non-fiction, slave narrative