Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs #review

Title: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Author: Harriet Jacobs

This was a freebie I downloaded off Amazon out of idle curiosity and also as part of my research for my own writing. While I certainly don’t condone the institution of slavery, I nonetheless find the social dynamics attached to it fascinating. In this title, Harriet Jacobs tells her own tale of hardship and escape, and her remarkable resilience – though to be quite honest I do wonder why she hid in the garret for so many years and why she didn’t make a break for the north sooner.

All things considered, real life doesn’t always make for exciting reading without the embellishments provided with story craft, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl can and does drag, and the ending is a bit anticlimactic. It is, however, still an important account that needs to be told, as a document and honest record of the past. As always, we are faced with hypocrisy and cruelty from many people balanced out by the open-hearted generosity of spirit of others.

When Jacobs talks of slavery poisoning people and acting as a corrupting force on society, she makes an important point. Also to keep in mind is that so many slaves were so downtrodden that they couldn’t conceive of any other life – so perpetuating the problem. What was joyous to see was Jacobs’s growing realisation of her own worth that she no longer felt her “owners” had any right to her as goods to be bought and sold.

At present it is difficult to conceptualise times when people were considered mere chattel, and this book serves as a stark reminder of how we have arrived at our present society. Don’t expect any literary fireworks with this work. That it is not. This is not an easy, comfortable read, but it’s most certainly thought-provoking, and, from a historical perspective, I am pleased that this voice has been preserved. This is a story we need to remember lest we slip into the sort of backward thinking that reduces people to the status of property. Or we judge them based on their race.

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