This section contains 3,096 words
(approx. 8 pages at 400 words per page)
Linda Brent is the pseudonym of Harriet Jacobs, who is the author and protagonist of the book. Through her narrative the reader is exposed to her happy childhood, her unhappy discovery of the realities of slavery, her suffering as a slave, and the process by which she frees herself and her children and establishes herself in the North. It is through her eyes that one can see all of the other characters in the story, people who range from selflessly heroic to horrifically cruel.
Linda reveals herself to be highly intelligent, perceptive, cunning, determined and brave—these qualities (along with a certain degree of luck) help her to maintain her dignity, protect her family, and eventually obtain her freedom when so many others have failed in these pursuits.
Linda is clearly a charismatic individual, for she inspires many to help her and her family at great risk and personal expense. In her appendix to the book, Mrs. Amy Post tells the reader, "her appearance was prepossessing, and her deportment indicated remarkable delicacy of feeling and purity of thought". Even those who dislike her, such as Mrs. Flint, do so with vehement animosity. Nobody appears to be indifferent to Linda. Linda's web of family and social connections prove to be infinitely vital to her success.
Linda is evidently a physically attractive young woman since she inspires Dr. Flint's sexual obsession, and she is able to forge an advantageous social connection by becoming the mistress of the prominent Mr. Sands.
The determination and strength of character that Linda/Harriet displays in this story is astounding, particularly when she voluntarily spends seven years in a hiding place that most people would find it intolerable in which to spend even a week.
Although she and her children are free from slavery at the end of the book, the reader is left with the impression that she is not entirely satisfied with her life. Although she adamantly prefers her new situation to that of a slave, she still longs for a home of her own in which she and her family can live together.
Dr. Flint is Linda's master in practice, although she is legally the property of his young daughter, Emily (a point he is quick to mention when it suits his purposes). As the chief antagonist of the story, he is portrayed as cruel, conceited, lecherous, proud, and duplicitous. Early in the story one learns that Dr. Flint does not feed or clothe his slaves sufficiently, and that he tortured his cook by force-feeding her slop that the dog could not eat. One also learns that his sexual abuses of slave women have resulted in his fathering eleven slave children. Not only does he have little regard for the feelings, dignity, and well-being of his slaves, he also appears to disregard his wife. Linda sees Dr. Flint as possessing no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and attributes any action of decency on his part to his desire to maintain a respectable reputation within the town where he runs an established medical practice.
Dr. Flint's actions toward Linda appear to be rooted in a deep-seated personal vendetta. His sexual pursuit of her borders on obsession, perhaps because he is not accustomed to meeting this level of resistance. Not only is Linda resistant to his advances, she consistently outsmarts him—much to his chagrin. He appears to desperately need to prove himself to be superior to Linda, who is black and a slave, and cannot accept her rejection of him or her clever ruses. For all of her sufferings under Dr. Flint, Linda fares much better than many of the doctor's other slaves. The reader learns of a man who once quarreled with his wife who had given birth to a child with a suspiciously pale complexion, who was clearly Dr. Flint's offspring. For openly voicing this suspicion, Dr. Flint has the man whipped within an inch of his life, and afterward sells the man, his wife, and their child at auction.
Dr. Flint will not allow Linda to be sold at any price, although he has been offered much more than her market value and he could clearly use the money. After Linda's escape, he exerts an enormous level of effort and expense in fruitless attempts to retrieve her.
When Linda hears of Dr. Flints death years later she is unable to feel any remorse for him.
Linda's maternal grandmother, called "Aunt Marthy" by the townspeople, is a source of maternal support, strength, and inspiration for Linda, her family, and many others within their community.
Aunt Marthy seems to have been admired and respected by her masters, or at least prized as a highly valuable servant. While this admiration and respect could not prevent Aunt Marthy's children from being sold and taken away from her, it inspires a relative of her late mistress to buy her and free her after she is cheated out of her freedom by Dr. Flint. Upon her emancipation at the age of fifty, Aunt Marthy establishes herself in a humble yet comfortable house in town, and devotes herself to the formidable task of holding together her family who are scattered among several local slave-holding households.
Although Aunt Marthy has no legal claim to her children and grandchildren, she is remarkably successful in looking out for their best interests. Linda never has to suffer from a lack of decent food and clothing, thanks to her grandmother's generosity, and her house will later become a place of refuge from the anger of Mrs. Flint. After Linda escapes her master, Aunt Marthy hides Linda in her home, at great personal risk, for nearly seven years. She is able to save up enough money to purchase the freedom of her son, Phillip, and helps to facilitate the sale, and eventual emancipation, of William, Benny, and Ellen, raising the latter two in her home for a large portion of their childhoods.
Aunt Marthy cannot read or write, but is able to maintain correspondence with family members living in the North by enlisting the aid of others.
At the time of Aunt Marthy's death, all of her surviving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are free from slavery.
Linda's younger brother, whom she describes as a "bright and affectionate child". He also becomes the property of the Flint family after the death of their first mistress. While Linda is upset about her brother meeting this fate, she appears to take comfort in the fact that her brother lives and works in the same household as she does. As they grow into adulthood, they continue to be very close. William's intelligence proves to be a valuable asset to Dr. Flint and later Mr. Sands, and both entrust him with significant office responsibilities—for which his sister is very proud.
William escapes from slavery while accompanying his master, Mr. Sands, on a trip to Chicago. Although William is happy with Mr. Sands' treatment of him, he feels he cannot pass up an opportunity to free himself from bondage, since such an opportunity may never present itself again. While Linda and her grandmother are saddened that William is no longer a part of their lives, they try to put their own interests aside and rejoice in his freedom.
After Linda's escape from the South, she is reunited with her brother in New York. He later leaves to make a life for himself in California.
Mrs. Flint is the wife of Dr. Flint and the mother of Linda's young owner, Emily. She is depicted as a bitter, irrational, and a supremely self-absorbed woman. She is aware that her husband has fathered many slave children and, rather than hold her husband responsible for his actions, she lashes out in anger at the young slave girls who are the objects of his attention. She is cruel and abusive to Linda.
The youngest child of Linda's grandmother, Linda regards Benjamin more like a brother than like an uncle due to the small difference in their ages. Benjamin is his mother's favorite child, and she is devastated when he is taken from her and sold at auction when he is only ten years old. However, he is sold locally, so Benjamin continues to be a part of his family's life for many years after his sale. He doesn't take to well to enslavement, however. He frequently rebels against his master and is punished harshly. When he finally attempts to escape to the North, he is caught, returned to slavery, imprisoned, and sold to a speculator who plans to take him to New Orleans. He is never delivered to Louisiana, however. Before he is successfully transported he escapes, this time successfully. Uncle Phillip later runs into him in New York and reports that he is doing well. After this encounter, no more is seen or heard from Benjamin. Linda and her grandmother are upset about losing him, but try to put their selfish desires aside and rejoice in his freedom. Linda describes Benjamin as handsome, bright, and "nearly white" (this last quality undoubtedly helps him during his attempts at escape).
Linda's Uncle Phillip is a slave on a local plantation. He is evidently in a position of some responsibility, because he frequently travels with his master on trips to do business in the North. On one of these trips he runs into his brother, Benjamin (the only contact Benjamin had with the family after his escape.) Although Benjamin is clearly Aunt Marthy's favorite child, it is Phillip who chooses to remain with her in the South, despite his opportunities to escape slavery and live as a free man in the North. Eventually, Aunt Marthy is able to purchase Phillip's freedom for $800.
Phillip is the only one of Aunt Marthy's children who is still a part of her life at the time of her death.
Uncle Phillip is instrumental to Linda's escape. It is he who prepares her hiding place and he is one of the few people who have contact with Linda during her long period of hiding.
The twin sister of Linda's mother, Aunt Nancy is a slave within the household of Dr. and Mrs. Flint. She serves as a source of comfort and protection to Linda during her time with the Flints. Aunt Nancy has not been able to have any children of her own, a fact that saddenes her greatly. When Aunt Nancy becomes ill and passes away, Mrs. Flint wishes to honor her by burying her in the Flint family plot—without considering the wishes of Aunt Nancy's own family. When Nancy is finally interred in the Negro cemetery, Linda regrets that she is unable to come out of her hiding place to mourn her.
Linda's first child with Mr. Sands is named after his great-uncle Benjamin. When Linda reveals herself to Benjamin after hiding in her den for seven years, she learns that Benny had long been aware of her presence and had had the discretion not to reveal this knowledge. Linda rejoices that Benny has remained silent on this issue, but laments that slavery has taught him to be secretive and skeptical. He remains idealistic however, about obtaining his freedom and moving to the North, where he expects to be granted all of the freedoms afforded to freeborn white boys. He is disillusioned when he discovers that, even in the North, he is the victim of racial discrimination.
The daughter of Linda and Mr. Sands. Ellen is born a slave but is purchased by her father at a very young age and placed within the custody of her great-grandmother. She grows up without any memory of her mother, unaware that her mother is observing her the entire time from her hiding place. Ellen is a polite, dutiful child who never complains or troubles anyone on her own account, even when her mother can see that she is unhappy and her needs are neglected.
Although a slave, Linda's father is granted considerable freedom. So long as he pays his mistress $200 a year, he is able to manage his own business and collect his own earnings. He runs a successful carpentry business and lives in a house with his wife and his children until the wife dies (at which time the children go to live with their mistress).
He is distraught when his children become the property of the Flint family, and furious when his son William is obligated to obey his mistress rather than his father. Dr. and Mrs. Flint disapprove of him spoiling his children by "teaching them to feel like human beings". He tries to purchase the freedom of his offspring but is unsuccessful.
Upon the death of their father, Linda and William feel acutely vulnerable and alone in the world. They despair over what the future is likely to hold for them as slaves.
Linda's mother, whose name is never mentioned, rears her during the first six (happy) years of her life. The reader is told little about her, only that Linda was happy in her home and that she was well thought of by her mistress's family. It is only after her mother's death that Linda learns she is a slave.
Linda's First Mistress
Linda goes to live in the home of her first mistress at the age of six. The mistress had promised Linda's dying mother that her children would not suffer. She treats Linda well and teaches her to read and write. Linda loves her mistress and eagerly serves her. Since her mistress had always treated her as a member of the family rather than as chattel, Linda and her friends were hopeful that the mistress would grant Linda's freedom in her will. However, she instead wills Linda to her young niece. For the first time, Linda learns that her beloved mistress regarded her as a piece of property, and she feels deeply betrayed.
As a teenager, Linda falls in love with a local free black man. He wishes to buy her and marry her, but Dr. Flint will not allow it. For some reason, the author chooses not to refer to the love of her childhood by name. This is particularly interesting when one considers that Harriet Jacobs uses fictitious names for all of the characters in this book. Why was she unable to mention him by name—even an assumed name?
Since the writer holds the reader at a distance from this character, the reader knows little about him. It is clear, however, that Linda admires his noble character and intelligence.
An English woman in New York who employs Linda as a nurse to her daughter. Linda observes that English women tend to carry less racial prejudice than Americans, and she appreciates this quality in Mrs. Bruce. When Linda finally confides to her employer that she is a fugitive slave, she finds Mrs. Bruce very sympathetic and helpful. The two grow very close, and when Mrs. Bruce becomes sick and dies, Linda continues her association with the Bruce family.
The Second Mrs. Bruce
Mr. Bruce's second wife, whom he marries after the death of the first Mrs. Bruce. The second Mrs. Bruce differs from her predecessor in that she is American and from a wealthy, aristocratic family. Her vehement opposition to slavery is expressed not only through her words, but also through her brave actions. She risks arrest by helping to shield Linda from the fugitive slave act, and hands over her own daughter in hopes that it might offer Linda some protection. It is the second Mrs. Bruce who finally purchases Linda from the Flints and legally frees her from slavery.
The owner of a nearby plantation who is notorious for his extreme cruelty.
Linda's friend. When Linda hides in Betty's mistress's house, Betty is largely responsible for taking care of her. She is employed as a cook, and therefore feeds Linda well.
A kind woman in Linda's town who, although a slaveholder herself, takes pity on Linda and helps to hide her after her escape. She appears to treat her own slaves very well, and Betty seems happy to serve her.
A kind relative of Mrs. Flint, and close friend of Aunt Marthy. After Dr. Flint denies Aunt Marthy the freedom that was granted her in her master's will, she is purchased by Miss Fanny and set free.
Linda's friend who is instrumental in her final escape to the North after spending several years in hiding.
Young Mr. Flint
Dr. Flint's son. Linda does not think highly of him, but they manage to get along reasonably well during the short time they work together on the plantation.
Young Mrs. Flint
Mr. Flint's new wife. Linda feels she is naive and idealistic and fears she will soon be disillusioned when she is exposed to the harsh realities of life as a slaveholder's wife. Linda does not think much of her moral character, particularly after Mrs. Flint callously denies an older slave his meat rations, but she manages to get along with her new mistress during their short time together.
A friendly woman who lives with Linda's grandmother.
A woman who lives in a small house on Aunt Marthy's plot of land.
Aggie's daughter who is a friend of Linda's and later escapes with her to the North.
Captain on the vessel that takes Linda and Fanny to freedom in the North. Linda is slow to trust him, but his goodwill toward the two fugitive slaves appears genuine.
Rev. and Mrs. Durham
A couple who aid Linda when she first arrives in Philadelphia.
Mr. and Mrs. Hobbs
Relatives of Mr. Sands with whom Ellen goes to live in Brooklyn.
Sarah and her Mother
Other former slaves from Linda's hometown who live in Brooklyn.
Mrs. Hobbs's brother who betrays Linda's whereabouts to Dr. Flint, nearly resulting in her capture.
An escaped slave from Linda's hometown who has endured particularly harsh cruelties.
An older slave whom Linda teaches how to read, despite considerable risk of punishment.
Charity and James
James is the unfortunate victim of the most gruesome murder detailed in the book. Linda is hopeful that his mother, Charity, never heard about the ultimate fate of her son.
Isaac and Amy Post
A couple with whom Linda resides while in Rochester. Amy Post is the author of the book's appendix.
This section contains 3,096 words
(approx. 8 pages at 400 words per page)