Study Guide

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Friendship

By Harriet Jacobs

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For Linda, friends aren't just all you need—they're all she has. And that turns out to be enough. Her friendship with Peter, a fellow slave, gets her on the northbound boat to Philadelphia; her friendship with Betty secures her a place to hide out after her escape; and her friendship with the Bruce family finally wins her emancipation. While many early American novels tend to value independence and solitude, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl highlights the importance of community and friendship, particularly for a female slave seeking freedom.

Questions About Friendship

  1. What role do friends play in the novel? How does Linda emphasize the importance of friendship?
  2. Who are Linda’s friends, and how do they help her? Does she ever seem to indicate why and how she has so many friends?
  3. What kind of barriers exist to friendships between slaves? Between whites and blacks?

Chew on This

Whereas male slave narratives tend to highlight individualism and the solitary pursuit of freedom, Incidents stresses the importance of friendship and community in achieving emancipation.

Jacobs suggests that her friendships are unusual in slave communities. Since slaves are rarely permitted to talk to one another when they are not working, it is difficult for strong friendships to form.

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