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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Topics for Discussion

This Study Guide consists of approximately 43 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 576 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)

What did you know about slavery in America before you read this book? How were your knowledge and perceptions of slavery changed by reading this narrative?

Linda/Harriet asserts many times throughout the work that slavery, while horrible and degrading for men, is far worse for women. Why is this the case? What hardships of slavery are specific to women? Are there hardships specific to men?

Harriet Jacobs tells us that she is writing this narrative not to solicit sympathy for her own sufferings but to motivate the reader to take action and help the millions of Americans still living in slavery. How do you think the reading public, in 1861, are likely to have responded to the book? Based on what you have read, do you think it was a useful tool for inciting social change?

The poor white men who searched Linda's grandmother's home after the insurrection were envious and resentful about the luxuries and comforts they found there. Linda and her family were evidently living more comfortably than these free white people in her town. What's more, these men are illiterate, while Linda and William have learned to read. However, while Linda comments that the same forces that are keeping her in slavery are keeping these men in poverty, she none-the-less believes that it is better to live in freedom and poverty than to live as a slave, even a "pampered slave". Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

In her introduction to the work, editor Lydia Maria Child anticipates that she will be criticized for the book's discussion of "delicate subjects". What topics in the book might be considered "delicate"? Why does Ms. Child feel the need to present these topics to the general public? What does this tell us about the book's intended audience?

Ms. Jacobs believes that slavery not only brings unhappiness to slaves themselves, but also to the white slaveholders and their families. According to her, the abolition of slavery would make everybody's life better. Do you think this is true? Do you believe that slavery caused unhappiness for slave-owners as well as for slaves? If this is the case, why do you think slavery continued to flourish in her world?

Ms. Jacobs decided to publish this narrative under the pseudonym Linda Brent and used fictitious names for the other characters in this, otherwise non-fiction book. Why do you think Ms. Jacobs decided not to use her real name or the real names of the other people in the story?

What do you think of Mr. Sands? Are his actions admirable? Is he taking advantage of Harriet when he begins an affair with her? Are his efforts to secure his children's freedom admirable? As the story progresses, Mr. Sands appears to have less and less contact with the children Harriet bore him and Harriet trusts him less and less. Is this merely the result of a love affair that has fizzled out or gone sour? Does his new position in society as a congressman and respectable husband render it necessary for him to distance himself from these illegitimate offspring? All in all, what is your opinion of Mr. Sands' character?

What are the author's views on religion as evidenced in the book?

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl tells us one woman's perspective of her experience in slavery. What can we know about slavery from one person's story? Would the narrative be more effective if it included other slaves' viewpoints? Why or why not?

This section contains 576 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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