Harriet Jacobs was an African American writer that escaped slavery in 1835. In 1861, she published the slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In this narrative, Jacobs writes about the struggle of freedom by female slaves and the sexual harassment and abuse they endured. Looking at Jacobs’ work from a historical perspective, you’ll find that the text was very important during the time it was written.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was written during the 1850s. Slavery was a highly explosive issue in the United States. During this time, African American literature was dominant. Slave narratives were publicized by abolitionists, who were sometimes editors, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1861, Jacobs’ book was published the same year the Civil War began. Harriet Jacobs book was published so she could tell her story to people and to help the abolitionist movement. It was also used to promote anti-slavery because of the Civil War in the United States. By publishing the book the same year the Civil War began, there was a tremendous effect on the book’s resonance with the public. Everyone was so busy with war effort.
In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Jacobs did a great job at describing how life was as a slave. Life as a slave was very difficult. The housing was horrible. Slaves lived in wooden shacks with dirt floors. Their beds were made of straw or grass and one blanket for covering themselves. One single room could have more than a dozen people living there. Slaves began to work as young as six years old. They ran errands for the master and took water to the older slaves in the fields. Every month, the slaves would receive cornmeal salt herrings and eight pounds of pork or fish. Each year, slaves would receive two shirts, two pairs of pants, one jacket, one pair of socks, one pair of shoes, and a wool hat. Slaves didn’t receive dresses and pantaloons until they were about fifteen years old. They weren’t allowed to wear shoes until they were adults. They didn’t know of underwear.
The masters on the plantations didn’t want their slave to learn to read. For some reason, they didn’t want them to become Christians. If slaves did learn to read, they read the Bible, if they could get one. In the South, slaves were usually allowed to attend church.
I think Harriet Jacobs did what she expected to do with her book. She wanted to open people’s eyes about the abuse of women during slavery. People did hear her story and its still being recognized today.