Monday, January 14, 2013

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book from Project Gutenberg, please support them.

I liked this book but can understand the controversies surrounding it.

I read this book after watching the movie Lincoln to get a better idea of the slave experience at the time. This book was written about a year before the Civil War started so it is a great exploration of that period, where morals in the north had already shifted away from slavery and the country was on the verge of doing something about it.

What I liked best about this book is the depictions of slavery at the time. I had no concept of how it actually worked, and with this book I'm still left with a lot of questions. The book addresses the need to treat slaves well enough to stop them from running away to the north and also to treat them poorly enough that they continue working for free. It's an interesting mix.

Never before had I considered the sexual dynamic and this book really goes into it. People say the sex was not as prevalent as depicted in this book but I could believe it. There's plenty of jokes about isolated farms, teenage boys, a sheep and a tall wheat field. If the slave owners had sons, the women were going to be in trouble, plain and simple. To say nothing of the farmer himself.

The book really kept coming back to the dynamic for me between the slaves and the owners. Slaves could earn money and buy themselves, there were free blacks in the south at that time. Whites would die and will slaves their freedom, I had no idea all of that was going on. Slaves had houses, older slaves had some say in what went on, children could be sold from mothers. It wasn't all the whipping and chains I had been led previously to believe.

This being said, the book is very well written, and I agree perhaps too well written for a slave with no education. The part that really stretched credulity for me was her in the roof for 7 years. In the summer you would need water, and then you'd need to go to the bathroom, and 7 years?

All in all though very glad I read it.

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