Study Guide

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Summary

By Harriet Jacobs

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Summary

Linda starts her story at age six. She's a happy kid, living with her mom and dad, both of whom are skilled, educated, and light-skinned slaves. Gee, this doesn't sound too bad.

The next few years are all right, too. Her mom dies, but she goes to live with her mother’s young mistress, a pretty nice lady (for a slave-owner) who teaches Linda how to sew and read. Now things go downhill. After her mistress dies, twelve-year-old Linda has to go live with a new mistress, five-year old Emily Flint.

Okay, having a five-year-old for a mistress is a little weird, but what's worse is that Emily's dad is a total terror. As soon as Linda hits puberty, Dr. Flint turns up the creep-o-meter. He whispers gross things in her ear, writes her dirty notes, and even builds a secret cabin to be their love nest. Ew. It's a good thing neither of them had smartphones, or you just know there'd be pictures of his genitalia floating through cyberspace.

So, Linda comes up with a really dodgy plan. If she's got to have sex with anyone, it's at least not going to be Dr. Flint—it's going to be this unmarried white dude named Mr. Sands. The idea is that she's going to get pregnant, and Dr. Flint is going to be so disgusted that he sells her off.

Well, the plans works right up until the point where she realizes that Dr. Flint is even crueler than she thought. He's totally uninterested in selling her off. In fact, he consoles himself with the thought that at least her child is going to be his slave.

Eventually, Dr. Flint ups the stakes. If Linda agrees to a sexual relationship with him, he'll set her and her children (she has two by this point) free. The alternative? Going to work as a field hand on his son's plantation.

But Linda has a secret plan. She refuses the offer of freedom and heads to the plantation. One month later, she's out of there… and right into a teeny crawlspace in her grandmother's shed, where she can peek out to see her children. The space is so small that she can't even stand upright, but she figures Dr. Flint will assume she's gone north and sell her children out of revenge.

Again, not so much with the planning. Dr. Flint flat out refuses to give up. He makes trip after trip to New York to find her; he harasses her friends and family for news; and he keeps her children right by his side, assuming that she'll come back for them.

This goes on for seven years.

Eventually an elaborate network of friends, family members, and abolitionists helps Linda escape to New York. There, Linda works for a woman named Mrs. Bruce until she hears that Dr. Flint was nasty until the day he died—his will has left Linda and her children to a new master, who's hot on her trail.

At this point Mrs. Bruce steps in and secretly arranges to buy the freedom of Linda and her kids for a pretty measly sum of money, and, bam! Decades of bondage are over. Linda is surprisingly not as happy as you'd think.

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