Study Guide

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Quotes

  • Slavery

    I had not lived fourteen years in slavery for nothing. I had felt, seen, and heard enough, to read the characters, and question the motives, of those around me. The war of my life had begun; and though one of God's most powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered. (4.10)

    Today, most American fourteen-year-olds are just trying to figure out how to get a later curfew or a bigger allowance. Not Linda. Linda isn't taking on her parents; she's taking on the entire system of slavery.

    We all concluded by saying, "He that is willing to be a slave, let him be a slave." (4.46)

    Here's an early clue to what makes Linda able to fight her way out of slavery. Aunt Martha has instilled within her grandchildren a kind of stubbornness and a refusal to submit that serves Linda well.

    No matter whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, 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 (5.1)

    Raping a white woman is punishable by death at this time. Raping a black woman? As long as you don't brag about it, go right ahead.

    The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences. (6.11)

    Slavery creates an environment of fear, and none of the socially weaker people—not women, children, or slaves—can stand up against it.

    Reader, I draw no imaginary pictures of southern homes. I am telling you the plain truth. Yet when victims make their escape from this wild beast of Slavery, northerners consent to act the part of bloodhounds, and hunt the poor fugitive back into his den, "full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness." (6.13)

    Here's a good moment of Linda's rhetoric. She steps back from the narrative and addresses the reader, using her intimate knowledge of slavery to give herself authority—and at the same time criticizes Northerners for being complicit in slavery.

    I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. (9.20)

    Slavery ruins everyone involved—not just slaves. It's like mutually assured destruction of morality.

    If you want to be fully convinced of the abominations of slavery, go on a southern plantation, and call yourself a negro trader. Then there will be no concealment; and you will see and hear things that will seem to you impossible among human beings with immortal souls. (9.22)

    If this book isn't enough to convince you, Linda wants you to head on down and see the horrors for themselves. (Although maybe the real question is why simple logic isn't enough to convince everyone that, you know, owning other human beings is wrong.)

    Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. (10.6)

    Here's another appeal to the reader. Linda is trying to get her readers on her side, to see that she only behaved badly—according to their standards—to escape a worse fate.

    Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own. (14.6)

    Much of the novel is spent showing how slavery is worse for women due to the constant threat of rape and sexual harassment.

    I like a straightforward course, and am always reluctant to resort to subterfuges. So far as my ways have been crooked, I charge them all upon slavery. It was that system of violence and wrong which now left me no alternative but to enact a falsehood. (32.5).

    One of the worst effects of slavery is that it forces slaves to become secretive and deceptive in order to protect themselves. They basically have no chance to be good people.

  • Race

    If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave. (5.2)

    Slavery turns everything upside down, including the value of beauty. Beautiful slave girls are more likely to become victims.

    How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She, also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink. (5.6)

    Here's another reason you can't blame Jacobs for her premarital sex: the major difference between black and white women is sexual autonomy. While the white child will go on to marry, have children, and live in a peaceful home, her black friend will likely be sexually pursued and enslaved her entire life.

    They seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God created the Africans to be slaves. What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who "made of one blood all nations of men!" And then who are Africans? Who can measure the amount of Anglo-Saxon blood coursing in the veins of American slaves? (8.6)

    Linda challenges ideas about racial purity by arguing that there is so much miscegenation (a fancy word for interracial sex) happening in America that it’s hard to tell white people from black people.

    It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of their own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little brief authority, and show their subservience to the slaveholders; not reflecting that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept themselves in poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation. (12.4)

    Here's an example of voting against your interests: poor whites were totally oppressed but still taught that they were superior to black people. In reality, poor slaves and poor whites had a great deal in common, since wealthy white landowners stomped on them both.

    No two people that had the slightest tinge of color in their faces dared to be seen talking together. (12.4)

    Thanks, Nat Turner. After the bloody Nat Turner rebellion, merely talking to another slave could get you into huge trouble.

    “O, no. […] They don’t allow colored people to go in the first-class cars.” (31.11)

    So, the North isn't a promised land after all. Here, Linda blasts its legal manifestations of racism. Not as bad as slavery, sure, but not exactly awesome.

    O, the hypocrisy of slaveholders! Did the old fox [Dr Flint] suppose I was goose enough to go into such a stupid trap? Verily, he relied too much on "the stupidity of the African race." (34.3)

    Ideas about racial superiority backfire when they make you underestimate your slaves. Over and over, Linda proves herself to be smarter than Dr. Flint.

    [B]ut everywhere I found the same manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people. (35.5)

    Northern prejudice oppresses the spirits and energies of black people—just like slavery oppresses their bodies.

    [T]he colored servants ought to be dissatisfied with themselves, for not having too much self-respect to submit to such treatment; that there was no difference in the price of board for colored and white servants, and there was no justification for difference of treatment. (35.7)

    It was true in 1850, and it's true now: you have to stand up for your rights.

    During all that time [in England], I never saw the slightest symptom of prejudice against color. (37.7)

    Here's a new tactic: an appeal to American nationalism. She seems to be provoking her readers into thinking that England might be the more moral of the two countries.

  • Women and Femininity

    I do earnestly desire to arouse the women of the North to a realizing sense of the condition of two millions of women at the South, still in bondage, suffering what I suffered, and most of them far worse. (Preface.3)

    Jacobs states right out what she's trying to do: get Northern women fired up about the wrongs done to women. It might have worked, if the Civil War didn't happen first.

    When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong. (4.5)

    Dr. Flint’s attempt to objectify Linda (literally, to turn her into a sexual object) backfires, because it actually makes her realize that she's not an object. Total fail.

    I was an object of her jealousy, and, consequently, of her hatred; and I knew I could not expect kindness or confidence from her under the circumstances in which I was placed. I could not blame her. Slaveholders' wives feel as other women would under similar circumstances. (6.8)

    Even though Mrs. Flint terrorizes her, Linda justifies Mrs. Flint’s behavior in the context of the institution of slavery. This ability to empathize helps makes Linda a compelling and trustworthy narrator.

    The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him of his own household. Jealousy and hatred enter the flowery home, and it is ravaged of its loveliness. (6.13)

    Not only does slavery expose young girls to rape, it puts adult women into sexual competition with them. Ew and ew.

    No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere of licentiousness and fear. The lash and the foul talk of her master and his sons are her teachers. When she is fourteen or fifteen, her owner, or his sons, or the overseer, or perhaps all of them, begin to bribe her with presents. If these fail to accomplish their purpose, she is whipped or starved into submission to their will. (9.17)

    Although Jacobs never mentions force, this is nothing less than rape. These girls have no choice but to be corrupted—and the men aren't much better off.

    For years, my master had done his utmost to pollute my mind with foul images, and to destroy the pure principles inculcated by my grandmother, and the good mistress of my childhood. The influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that they had on other young girls; they had made me prematurely knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world. I knew what I did, and I did it with deliberate calculation. (10.2)

    Linda excuses her affair partly by insisting that she learned about sex and seduction from her master, a man forty years her senior. You know what? Shmoop totally forgives her.

    But, O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely! (10.3)

    Linda cannot be judged according to white morality. Slave-girls have a different set of choices, and none of them are particularly appealing.

    I knew the impassable gulf between us; but to be an object of interest to a man who is not married, and who is not her master, is agreeable to the pride and feelings of a slave, if her miserable situation has left her any pride or sentiment. It seems less degrading to give one's self, than to submit to compulsion. There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment. (10.5)

    For women whose bodies were policed and controlled by white men, the mere fact of choosing to sleep with someone could seem like a revolutionary act.

    Alas, what mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life! Death is better than slavery. (11.17)

    Here's an example of how slavery defeminizes women: slave-mothers pray for the deaths of their children. This is brutally realistic, since many slave-women actually did kill their children rather than have them grow up as slaves.

    How few mothers would have consented to have one of their own babes become a fugitive, for the sake of a poor, hunted nurse, on whom the legislators of the country had let loose the bloodhounds. (40.12)

    This moment is super important, because it shows that white abolitionist women were capable of sacrificing their own comfort to assist a slave in need. It stands out as a model for what white readers could be doing.

  • Family

    The young wife soon learns that the husband in whose hands she has placed her happiness pays no regard to his marriage vows. Children of every shade of complexion play with her own fair babies, and too well she knows that they are born unto him and his own household. (6.13)

    White women's houses were often full of slave children who were half-siblings of the white children. These little asides are Linda's way of trying to explain Mrs. Flint's meanness as something other than basic human indecency.

    [T]he husband of a slave has no power to protect her. (7.2)

    The nineteenth-century view of marriage as a husband protecting and honoring his wife’s dignity and purity has no chance in slave communities—just one more way that women suffer.

    I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery […] makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. (10.20)

    Slavery affects every member of every family, and it's hard to say who's got it worse.

    Alas, what mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life! Death is better than slavery. (11.17)

    Here's one of the worst things about slavery: Linda may have prayed for her children to live, but she wasn't entirely happy when they survived.

    [S]laveholders have been cunning enough to enact that “the child shall follow the condition of the mother,” not of the father; thus taking care that licentiousness shall not interfere with avarice. (14.3)

    In other words, sex between a white woman and a black man might be a crime, but a white man's rape of a black woman is just a good investment.

    What tangled skeins are the genealogies of slavery! (14.11)

    Slaveholders liked to argue that slavery was okay because slaves were racially inferior. Not so fast, Jacobs says. Many slaves are actually of mixed ancestry, and so this slaveholder logic is… not very logical.

    My friends feared I should become a cripple for life; and I was so weary of my long imprisonment that, had it not been for the hope of serving my children, I should have been thankful to die; but, for their sakes, I was willing to bear on. (24.7)

    Linda’s emphasis on family makes her story tailor-made to appeal to Northern white women readers, since it confirms their own expectations about how women should behave.

    “O Aggie […] it seems as if I shouldn’t have any of my children or grandchildren left to hand me a drink when I’m dying, and lay my old body in the ground.” (26.9)

    When stoic Aunt Martha finally expresses a feeling, it’s pretty effective—effective enough to temporarily convince Linda not to run away.

    “I wish it could have lived […] it is not the will of God that any of my children should live. But I will try to be fit to meet their little spirits in heaven.” (28.2)

    Aunt Nancy's sad little story shows that slave women's children are sacrificed to the whims of their masters and mistresses—whims as trivial as the need for a midnight glass of water.

    The dream of my life is not yet realized. I do not sit with my children in a home of my own. I still long for a hearthstone of my own, however humble. (41.25)

    The story might be over—but not really. Jacobs insists that, until black families can live together in freedom, there's work to be done. (And, actually, Jacobs did work for African-Americans until her death.)

  • Rules and Order

    Even if he could have obtained permission to marry me while I was a slave, the marriage would give him no power to protect me from my master. […] And then, if we had children, I knew they must "follow the condition of the mother." (7.18)

    You wouldn't think Jacobs would have to point this out, but here she's teaching the reader that, in contrast to what they may have heard about slavery—that slaveholders were kind, for instance, or that slaves were happy—an elaborate legal system keeps slaves oppressed.

    But, O, ye happy women, whose purity has been sheltered from childhood, who have been free to choose the objects of your affection, whose homes are protected by law, do not judge the poor desolate slave girl too severely! If slavery had been abolished, I, also […] could have had a home shielded by laws; and I should have been spared the painful task of confessing what I am now about to relate. (10.3)

    This is sneaky. Here, Jacobs suggests that white women are no purer than slave women. Rather, the purity of white women “has been sheltered” and their homes “are protected by law.” So, a white woman’s alleged purity is really just legal and social protection.

    Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel, entirely subject to the will of another. (10.6)

    Jacobs engages the reader by highlighting the differences between Linda and her audience. As a narrator, Linda is so endearing that the reader wants her to succeed—but, just when we want her to succeed, she tells us that she can't.

    It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no negroes of their own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little brief authority, and show their subservience to the slaveholders; not reflecting that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept themselves in poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation. (12.4)

    Although many poor whites did not own slaves, wealthy slaveholders often recruited them to do the dirty work of maintaining order. An elaborate system of racial prejudice keeps poor whites from recognizing that they have more in common with slaves than they realize—just like white women and black women.

    When my baby was about to be christened, the former mistress of my father stepped up to me, and proposed to give it her Christian name. To this I added the surname of my father, who had himself no legal right to it; for my grandfather on the paternal side was a white gentleman. What tangled skeins are the genealogies of slavery! I loved my father; but it mortified me to be obliged to bestow his name on my children. (14.11)

    Laws even deprived slaves of their family heritage. Jacobs wants her readers to understand that the things they take for granted—their names, for instance—do not even exist as a possibility for a legally subjugated people.

    I knew the law would decide that I was his [Dr. Flint] property, and would probably still give his daughter a claim to my children; but I regarded such laws as the regulations of robbers, who had no rights that I was bound to respect. (38.3)

    Linda doesn't recognize the laws of slavery. She considers them illegal, because they're created by lawbreakers—"robbers."

    The slave Hamlin, the first fugitive that came under the new law, was given up by the bloodhounds of the north to the bloodhounds of the south. It was the beginning of a reign of terror to the colored population. (40.3)

    The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had a profound impact on runaway slaves. It mandated that law enforcement officials had to return runaway slaves to their masters. The law also stated that anyone who was found helping a slave was subject to six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000. This law literally brought slavery to the North, since it made northerners responsible for returning slaves to their masters.

    I dreaded the approach of summer, when snakes and slaveholders make their appearance. I was, in fact, a slave in New York, as subject to slave laws as I had been in a Slave State. Strange incongruity in a State called free! (40.10)

    While Linda spent much of her life thinking that life in the Free States would be easier, she realizes that slavery has followed her North.

    “The bill of sale!” Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold in the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. (41.19)

    Ouch. Jacobs rewrites the title of her chapter, “Free at Last,” to Sold at Last, because the bitter irony is that her path to freedom involves being treated as property.

  • Friendship

    I longed for someone to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head on my grandmother’s faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles. But Dr. Flint swore that he would kill me, if I was not as silent as the grave. (5.3)

    Dr. Flint’s threats terrorize Linda into silence. Friendship is difficult for slaves, because their voices are so often silenced.

    One was a fair white child; the other was her slave, and also her sister. When I saw them embracing each other, and heard their joyous laughter, I turned sadly away from the lovely sight. I foresaw the inevitable blight that would fall on the little slave's heart. I knew how soon her laughter would be changed to sighs. The fair child grew up to be a still fairer woman. From childhood to womanhood her pathway was blooming with flowers, and overarched by a sunny sky. Scarcely one day of her life had been clouded when the sun rose on her happy bridal morning. (5.5)

    The white friend will receive an education, marry, and start a family, while the black friend will probably be sexually harassed, never marry, and spend her life in servitude. Slavery destroys friendships as well as families.

    Peter, the brave, generous friend who had volunteered to run such terrible risks to secure my safety. To this day I remember how his bright face beamed with joy, when he told me he had discovered a safe method for me to escape. Yet that intelligent, enterprising, noble-hearted man was a chattel! Liable, by the laws of a country that calls itself civilized, to be sold with horses and pigs! (30.1)

    Here's a shocker: this guy is more civil and friendly than so-called civilized white Americans. The fact that slaves have such loyal friendships really undermines any argument that they are inherently primitive or amoral.

    I had heard that the poor slave had many friends in the north. I trusted we should find some of them. (31.1)

    The "friends" are abolitionists, who often wanted to hear about fugitives' experiences in slavery. In a way, Linda's whole narrative is an attempt to make friends with as many white woman as possible.

    If he was desirous of being my friend, I thought he ought to know how far I was worthy of it. (31.4)

    In Linda's model of friendship, friends are honest to one another about their faults—which is maybe one reason she is so honest in her book?

    “Place your trust in God, and be governed by good principles, and you will not fail to find friends.” (31.5)

    Be good, and you'll have friends. Gee, that sounds a little conditional.

    Many questions were asked concerning my experiences, and my escape from slavery; but I observed how careful they all were not to say anything that might wound my feelings. How gratifying this was, can be fully understood only by those who have been accustomed to be treated as if they were not included within the pale of human beings. (31.6)

    For the first time in her life, white people are treating Linda with respect. This small act of kindness is profoundly meaningful for a slave-woman who has grown used to being treated like an object.

    There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together. (33.5)

    Suffering is a shortcut to friendship—this, Linda suggests, is why black people need to work together to end slavery and discrimination.

    My relatives had been foiled in all their efforts, but God had raised me up a friend among strangers. (41.22)

    Friendship is absolutely central to Linda’s ability to escape slavery. An extensive network of friends and acquaintances looked after her and found opportunities for her.

    Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used. Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless handling; but when I speak of Mrs. Bruce as a friend, the word is sacred. (41.22)

    Mrs. Bruce probably represents many of the women abolitionists who worked alongside slaves. White allies helped slaves hide, attain employment, and emancipate themselves.

  • Contrasting Regions

    I admit that the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South, and the scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the North, who enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. They do the work. (8.4)

    Jacobs wants the reader to see that the North and South are interdependent. They work together to enforce some of slavery’s cruelest laws.

    At daylight, I heard women crying fresh fish, berries, radishes, and various other things. All this was new to me. I dressed myself at an early hour, and sat at the window to watch that unknown tide of life. Philadelphia seemed to me a wonderfully great place. (31.9)

    Hey! Linda is actually expressing happiness and wonder. This might be the first time we've seen her in a good mood.

    This was the first chill to my enthusiasm about the Free States. Colored people were allowed to ride in a filthy box, behind white people, at the south, but there they were not required to pay for their privilege. It made me sad to find how the north aped the customs of slavery. (31.12)

    Mostly, Jacobs seems to want to show not how different the North is from the South, but how similar the two places are.

    Being in servitude to the Anglo-Saxon race, I was not put into a “Jim Crow car,” on our way to Rockaway, neither was I invited to ride through the streets on the top of trunks in a truck; but every where I found the same manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people. (35.5)

    Okay, so she's not enslaved. Other than that, the North is pretty much business as usual.

    For the first time in my life I was in a place where I was treated according to my deportment, without reference to my complexion. I felt as if a great millstone had been lifted from my breast. Ensconced in a pleasant room, with my dear little charge, I laid my head on my pillow, for the first time, with the delightful consciousness of pure, unadulterated freedom. (37.2)

    Check out where Linda experiences this “delightful consciousness”—in England. She can only really feel at home when she's actually nowhere near home.

    I had heard much about the oppression of the poor in Europe. The people I saw around me were, many of them, among the poorest poor. But when I visited them in their little thatched cottages, I felt that the condition of even the meanest and most ignorant among them was vastly superior to the conditions of the most favored slaves in America. (37.4)

    Jacobs prods her readers a little bit here by suggesting that America is not as devoted to freedom and liberty as it might think. Maybe England, America’s bitter rival and former colonial master, is actually treating its citizens better.

    I remained abroad ten months, which was much longer than I had anticipated. During all that time, I never saw the slightest symptom of prejudice against color. Indeed, I entirely forgot it, till the time came for us to return to America. (37.7)

    For the first time in her life, Linda learns what it's like not to be judged based on her skin tone. So why is prejudice considered so normal in America?

    I was, in fact, a slave in New York, as subject to slave laws as I had been in a Slave State. Strange incongruity in a State called free! (40.10)

    Once the Fugitive Slave Law passes in 1850, Jacobs suggests, the Northern states begin to look suspiciously like the Southern states.

  • Religion

    Many of the slaves believe such stories, and think it is not worth while to exchange slavery for such a hard kind of freedom. It is difficult to persuade such that freedom could make them useful men, and enable them to protect their wives and children. If those heathen in our Christian land had as much teaching as some Hindoos, they would think otherwise. They would know that liberty is more valuable than life. They would begin to understand their own capabilities, and exert themselves to become men and women. (8.2)

    If one goal of Christianity is to spread the word, then Christians are missing a huge opportunity in not educating their slaves. Of course, educated slaves might begin to value their lives and believe in their capabilities. Yep, that'd be a problem.

    They seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God created the Africans to be slaves. What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who "made of one blood all nations of men!" (8.6)

    At several points in the text, Jacobs shows how slaveholders manipulate the Bible and religion to their own ends. This has the extra effect of revealing Jacobs's intelligence and authority by doing the same thing.

    The slaves begged the privilege of again meeting at their little church in the woods, with their burying ground around it. It was built by the colored people, and they had no higher happiness than to meet there and sing hymns together, and pour out their hearts in spontaneous prayer. Their request was denied, and the church was demolished. They were permitted to attend the white churches, a certain portion of the galleries being appropriated to their use. (12.14)

    After the Nat Turner rebellion, the very practice of African-Americans gathering together started to look awfully suspicious. Black churches in particular were seen as potential birthplaces of rebellion.

    After the alarm caused by Nat Turner's insurrection had subsided, the slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their masters. (13.1)

    Religion was an important source of joy for many slaves, but sermons were also used to keep slaves in their place—or at least to try to.

    “Although your masters may not find you out, God sees you; and he will punish you. You must forsake your sinful ways, and be faithful servants. Obey your old master and your young master--your old mistress and your young mistress. If you disobey your earthly master, you offend your heavenly Master. You must obey God's commandments. When you go from here, don't stop at the corners of the streets to talk, but go directly home, and let your master and mistress see that you have come." (13.4)

    This is ironic: a free black man is hired to instruct the slaves to obey their masters. His sermon reflects white fears about slaves actually, you know, talking to each other. It's much better when your property keeps its mouth shut.

    They never seem so happy as when shouting and singing at religious meetings. Many of them are sincere, and nearer to the gate of heaven than sanctimonious Mr. Pike, and other long-faced Christians, who see wounded Samaritans, and pass by on the other side. (13.6)

    Jacobs wants to let her Northern readers know that black people are capable of being pious and devout worshippers. We also get the sense that religion provided an occasion for joyous release for slaves.

    There is a great difference between Christianity and religion at the south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious. If a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church dismiss him, if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not hinder his continuing to be their good shepherd. (13.10)

    Slavery corrupts all major institutions—especially religion. Jacobs suggests that it is impossible to be a good Christian and to endorse slavery at the same time.

    There are thousands, who, like good uncle Fred, are thirsting for the water of life; but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it. They send the Bible to heathen abroad, and neglect the heathen at home. I am glad that missionaries go out to the dark corners of the earth; but I ask them not to overlook the dark corners at home. Talk to American slaveholders as you talk to savages in Africa. Tell them it was wrong to traffic in men. (13.17)

    Jacobs points out American hypocrisy here—it's totally ridiculous that American religious leaders teach the Bible in Africa, but slaves in America are not allowed to learn to read it.

    Ole Satan's church is here below;
    Up to God's free church I hope to go. (13.23)

    The one source of comfort for many slaves was the thought that their lives on earth were only temporary. That, and probably the thought that there'd be an extra-special place for the slave masters to end up.