Study Guide

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Chapter 40

By Harriet Jacobs

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Chapter 40

The Fugitive Slave Law

  • William decides to move to California, taking Benny with him.
  • Ellen is doing well at school, and people even try to help her out when they learn that her mother is a fugitive slave.
  • Before he leaves, they discuss the brutal (and new, as of 1850) Fugitive Slave Law, which makes it illegal for northerners to help runaway slaves.
  • Mr. Bruce re-marries an American woman, and they hire Linda on again.
  • Linda confesses to Mrs. Bruce that she's a fugitive slave, since the new law puts her freedom in danger.
  • Luckily, the second Mrs. Bruce is just as nice as the first, even though she's an American rather than an English woman.
  • Still, Linda is constantly afraid. She takes back streets every time she has to run an errand, and fears for her life when she walks outside.
  • One day, she runs into a former slave, Luke. Luke's master was a really nasty piece of work, and Luke finally ran off with some of his money.
  • He had a right to the money, as unpaid wages.
  • Linda is sad that Luke's moral sense is so corrupted, but that's what slavery does to you. It's bad for everyone.
  • Word comes from the South that Dr. Flint is hot on Linda's trail again.
  • Mrs. Bruce sends Linda to live with a senator’s wife in New England, and even sends along her own baby—so that, if Linda is caught, they'll have to bring the two back to Mrs. Bruce, who might be able to save her.
  • Linda stays for a month until she feels safe enough to return to New York.

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