Study Guide

Harriet Ann Jacobs Writing Styles in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
This section contains 726 words
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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a personal memoir. In this work, one woman tells of her story about her experiences as a slave and her eventual escape from slavery. The reader hears about the events of this one woman's life and about her own thoughts and observations. Through her story one can get a better idea of how the millions of American women who were enslaved during that time would have suffered. While it may seem counterintuitive that a single first-person narrative may paint the best picture of the lives of millions in slavery, the format gives one a much more personal account of the horrors of slavery that one can't get from a broad, sweeping, third-person account of slavery in general.

At the time it was written, this narrative was intended to serve as a moving commentary on the era's most significant political issue, as viewed by an individual who is directly affected by it.

While Harriet Jacobs has written her story under the pseudonym "Linda Brent", and has changed the names and identifying details of all of the characters, the reader is led to believe that this is otherwise an entirely candid, non-sensationalized, first person account of an actual woman's real-life experiences.


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is written with the intention of inciting anger in the reader and calling him or her to action. The author makes no effort to disguise her political message. She tells the reader outright that she does not write the book to illicit sympathy for herself and would rather not have exposed her personal life to public scrutiny. However, she feels it is her responsibility to do what she can to help the millions of people who are still slaves.

Every passage in this book in intended to convey this message. Therefore, the tone of the book is highly serious, and usually conveys anger or despair. Even when Ms. Jacobs tells the reader about happy moments in her life, such when when she is reunited with her children after a long separation, or when she discovers that her kind employer has purchased her freedom, the reader is always given the impression that she takes everything that is mentioned in the book very seriously. She never offers humorous asides or anecdotes to lighten the mood.

Her attitude toward the events depicted in this book is never in question. She outright condemns every aspect of slavery, calling it an evil abomination of nature that worsens everything and everyone that comes in contact with it. She is rarely ambivalent about anything, aside from a few slave-holding individuals, such as Mr. Sands and a kind woman who aids her after her escape, whom she seems to see good qualities in despite the fact that they are owners of slaves. However, she believes that even they would be much better people if it were not for slavery.


The book is divided into forty-one relatively short chapters. The chapters vary widely in their length, but none are longer than fifteen pages.

The bulk of the chapters narrate events in the author's life in chronological order, beginning with her early childhood when she was blissfully ignorant that she was a slave, and following her into her relatively pleasant later childhood with her first mistress, her intolerable adolescence in the Flint household, her escape as a young adult, the dismal hiding place where she spent most of her twenties, and her escape to the North coupled with her quest to establish herself and provide for her children, and finally her emancipation by way of the kindly second Mrs. Bruce.

However, she occasionally diverts from this chronological narrative to give the reader tangential information about slavery or to relay the experiences of her family and friends. She does this more frequently toward the beginning of the book, with chapters such as "The Slave's New Year's Day", and "Sketches of Neighboring Slaveholders". Other chapters partially tie into the time line of her autobiographical narrative. For example, chapter 28, entitled "Aunt Nancy", is largely about her aunt's death, and is placed in the book at around the same time when Aunt Nancy's death occurred, chronologically, in relation to the other events in the story. However, much of the chapter is dedicated to relaying events of Aunt Nancy's earlier life.

This section contains 726 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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