CliffsNotes on Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

CliffsNotes on Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

CliffsNotes on Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

CliffsNotes on Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Synopsis

“Reader it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered. I do it to kindle a flame of compassion in your hearts for my sisters who are still in bondage.”

With these words, Harriet Jacobs, speaking through her narrator, Linda Brent, reveals her reasons for deciding to make her personal story of enslavement, degradation, and sexual exploitation public. Although generally ignored by critics, who often dismissed Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself as a fictionalized account of slavery, the work is heralded today as the first book-length narrative by an ex-slave that reveals the unique brutalities inflicted on enslaved women. As such, it is often cited as the counterpart to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.

First published in 1861, Incidents was “discovered” in the 1970s and reprinted in 1973 and 1987. Since then, several editions of Incidents have been published. The most complete and comprehensive version of the narrative is the 1987 Harvard University Press edition, edited by Jacobs’ biographer, Jean Fagan Yellin, a professor at New York’s Pace University. (The second edition is scheduled for release in April 2000.) In addition to her efforts to establish the authenticity of Jacobs’ narrative, Yellin also brought Incidents to the attention of readers, scholars, and critics who had long ignored or dismissed the work because it failed to meet the standards of the male slave narrative, as defined by male critics such as Robert Stepto and James Olney.

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