Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs relates to the readers her experiences as a slave girl in the Southern part of America. Her story started from her sheltered life as a child to her subordination to her mistress upon her father's death, and her continuing struggle to live a dignified and virtuous life despite being a slave. Her struggle involves her constant degradation from her master; the danger of being sexually exploited by her mistress' husband, Dr. Flint; her broken relationship with a free colored man; her pregnancy to a man named Mr. Sands; and her fight for her and her children's freedom from slavery. All of these experiences helped Linda learn to fight justly for her right to become a free individual, but most of all, to be subordinated to Dr. Flint, the man who wanted so bad to exploit her, yet, was not able to because of Linda's vigilance and determination not to be forever bounded by the rule of slavery, that is, that she, her children, and her descendants will forever be the slaves of the Flint family.
The book discusses various degrees of "humane" treatment of slavery. The South is portrayed as the most harsh and horrendous place to be a slave, while the North, even though Linda initially described it as worse than the South, is actually a lot more fairer in its treatment of the slaves; the North is also a place wherein African-Americans can no longer be slaves, rather, they will be able to live freely and in more humanistic terms than in the South. Being a free colored man in the South, meanwhile, is still binding since most free colored men aspire to free their families from the bondage of slavery; however the families manage to keep the free man's loved-ones. The rule that a slave is forever the property of a family (unless they were sold or freed) still holds and is strictly followed (to the great advantage of the white Americans). This paper will discuss in depth the slavery problem in America before the Civil War, and will present the plight of African-Americans in America as illustrated in Harriet Jacobs' point-of-view. In providing the readers a clear concept of what slavery is and its effect in the society, examples from Jacobs's book will be given for a better illustration of the African-American's struggle for freedom and equality. The paper will establish the stance that slavery is a prevalent practice all throughout America before its abolishment, although there are varying levels or degrees of freedom in each area. As what has been said a while ago, African-American slaves were, in Jacobs's book, treated differently from the North and the South, and colored free men were also treated and achieved freedom up to a certain degree.
Linda's (Harriet Jacobs) story started as she narrated her life as a child. She stated that though she came from a family of slaves, she was not aware of her being a slave until she reached the age of six, wherein she experienced being sold and subjected to slavery when an old mistress of her mother had died. She described how slaves were treated as properties, things that should be sold, hired, or traded, whenever their mistress/master suits their purpose. Slaves were passed on form generation to generation of white Americans, and all the slaves' descendants will also be servants of the descendants of the white American family. Linda's family is an example of a black American that has long been subjected to the sufferings of slavery; their ancestors were once free men, but due to unfortunate circumstance related in the book, Linda's ancestors where once again subjected to slavery.
The second part of the book describes a slave's life inside the Flint's household. Maltreatments were always given to the servants, and constant punishments such as floggings and other "ingenious" forms of abuse were given if the master sees a slight hint of disobedience or stubbornness on the slave's behavior. Any violation from the "rules" given to slaves (not eating scraps from leftover foods) and inefficient work will result to an immediate, harsh punishment. Linda's deep resentment to the inhuman treatment of black Americans in the Flint household is seen when she remarked how the family's dog was well treated as compared to the slaves in the household. Linda also gave the readers an illustration of what Dr. Flint was really like, and how Linda described him as a man who takes advantage of the woman slaves in the house, sexually exploiting them, and bearing them children whom he does not acknowledge as his at all.
Chapter 3 is the start of Linda's narrative of slavery in the house. She described how slaves are made to prepare at the start of the year to be sold or hired by the white Americans. During the holiday season, slaves are either fed very well by their masters or forced to work hard, since that will be their last time to serve their masters before they will be "auctioned off" to slave buyers and holders. On New Year's Eve, slaves to be hired or sold ready themselves in fear or in relief (either because they were afraid of getting a cruel master or relieved of the cruelty that they will now be escaping). The first day of the year is spent on choosing among many slaves for hire or sale. The next day, all sold and hired slaves will go to their new masters and present themselves.
All throughout the book, inhuman treatments of slaves were shown as life went on for Linda and the other slaves. However, it is apparent that in the ninth chapter of the book, Linda voiced out her opinions of the ill treatment of the blacks in the South. Slaves and free colored men alike experience maltreatment in this part of the region, and Linda narrates several people whom she has known to have a hundred number of slaves or so, and all slaves are workers in the plantations of these rich men. Linda provides a detailed narration of the plights of the slaves who have died or suffered because of disobedience or running away from their masters. Punishment from disobedience is usually in the form of flogging or whipping, although Linda provides a few examples of "inhumane" punishment of the slaves from their masters.
Theft that has been discovered can be a warrant of death for a slave; the author cites an example wherein slaves were clubbed to death as punishment for stealing "a ham and some liquor" that were "found in their huts." The author justified the slaves' actions by saying that they were forced to loot some food from their masters because even though they are overworked, slaves aren't paid and cannot obtain food unless given by their masters.
Another injustice that black Americans experienced during Jacobs's time was the shameless cruelty of the masters and their sons to the wives and daughters of the a male slave. The owners sexually exploit the women slaves, fathering them countless children whom they do not acknowledge, and instead, send these children to other plantations o be sold to another slaveholder. This rampant immoral and abusive activity inside the plantation and among slave-owners in the South is perpetuated by the seemingly supportive behavior of the slaves themselves. They see this immoral activity as their way out of slavery; by subjecting themselves to the owners' mercy and letting them father countless "bastards," they (the slaves) hope that their lot will be better, if not best. However, it can be seen in the novel that these hopes were all futile, since the women only despair in the end upon learning that the "bastard" children of the owners or their masters will be sent off to become slaves in far places. Aside from the physical, moral, and emotional turmoil that the slaves feel due to the bondage of slavery, they also feel oppressed by the Church, the institution that further promotes slavery by asking for the submissiveness and subordination of the slaves to their masters. Sermons delivered by the church officials in Jacobs's novel are full of hypocrisy to the ills that plague the Southern society concerning the issue of slavery. Instead of confronting the issue of slavery and the owners' ill treatment of their servants, the Church advocates all the more the slaves' sufferings by asking them to be more "obedient" and submissive to their owners' orders and wishes.
Free colored people, meanwhile, enjoy the privilege of being "free" and not subordinated to a slaveholder or owner. These African-Americans "bought" themselves from their masters by paying them their worth, in exchange for their freedom from slavery. Jacobs, however, emphasize in the book that despite their freedom from slavery, free colored people are not free from discrimination and scorn of the Southern society. They are still treated as low-life forms, and re often referred to as "niggers." This degrading treatment of free colored people…