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Allusion in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Allusion Examples in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl:


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"Rise up, ye women..."   (Epigraph)

This quote from the biblical book of Isaiah calls on the women of Jerusalem to repent for the social injustices that have occurred on their land. Throughout Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs does something similar. She calls on the middle-class, white women in the North to hear her story, recognize her humanity, and wake up from their complacency.

"full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness..."   (Chapter VI)

This is a quote from the Gospel According to Matthew 23:27. The full verse says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Jacobs points out the hypocrisy of slavery, saying that despite their pure outward appearance, slave owners hold all of those that they have killed inside. Whether or not they literally killed them with their hands, the action of owning the slaves stifled their lives and killed their spirits.

"bloodhounds..."   (Chapter VI)

A “bloodhound” is a breed of dog with a keen sense of smell, originally bred for hunting deer, boar, and people. Here, Linda calls northerners “bloodhounds” to insinuate that they hunt runaway slaves like dogs—a reference to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required all escaped slaves found in the North to be sent back to their owners. Abolitionists even nicknamed this act the “Bloodhound Act” because of the hunting that came from it.

"separate hell..."   (Chapter VII)

This passage is from Lord Byron’s poem “The Lament of Tasso.” Lord Byron (1788–1824) was a British poet who wrote during the romantic period (1790–1830). In this poem he narrates the imprisonment of Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595). Tasso was deemed mad by Alfonso Il d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and thrown into the madhouse of St. Anna, where he endured seven years of solitude. This section of the poem references the often violent reactions of those imprisoned and how they were all going through their own personal hell. Jacobs uses this poem to talk about the violent outbursts of those, both masters and slaves imprisoned in the system of slavery.

"Queen Justice..."   (Chapter VIII)

The Queen Justice mentioned here is most likely a reference to Lady Justice. Lady Justice is an allegorical personification of the ideal of justice, often portrayed with a blindfold over her eyes to represent the idea that justice is blind and should be applied to everyone regardless of wealth, power, or other such status.

"like angels' visits'few and far between..."   (Chapter IX)

This is a quote from a 1799 poem by Thomas Campbell called “The Pleasures of Hope.” This quote illustrates how rare humane slaveholders were in a slave’s life.

"“South Side View of Slavery,”..."   (Chapter XIII)

This is a reference to the book “A South Side View of Slavery” by Nehemiah Adams, published in 1854. This book follows a northerner’s three-month visit to the South and his encounters with slavery. The book concludes that most slaves are content to live and work as slaves and that, as a whole, slavery is a harmless institution. This conclusion is false. Jacobs explains that slaveholders knew that people from the North questioned the legitimacy of slavery but when questioned they were able to cover up the injustices.

"Servants, be obedient..."   (Chapter XIII)

This is a quotation from the New Testament, specifically from the Letter to the Ephesians 6:5. When used in this context, this quotation gives the preacher a moral rationale for slavery. The preacher interprets this quotation to imply that slaves are inherently sinners, and that they must continue to work in order to redeem themselves in the eyes of God. Southern slaveholders interpreted the bible in this way to justify the continued existence of slavery.

"the servant is free from his master..."   (Chapter XVI)

This is a quotation from the Book of Job 3:17-19. In this passage, Job expresses a wish to suffer no more and asks for death. Linda uses this line as a promise to herself and her daughter that she will make sure her daughter does not suffer the same things she did at the hands of slavery.

"“Give me liberty, or give me death,”..."   (Chapter XVIII)

This is a quotation from a speech given by Patrick Henry, an American patriot, on the eve of the Revolutionary War. This speech called for the colonies to arm themselves as they prepared to fight for their independence from the British crown. Linda says she uses this phrase as her motto now. She says that she will fight for her freedom just like the revolutionaries did, and she will do anything to win.

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