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Themes in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Themes 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.

"My grandmother saw through his hypocrisy..."   (Chapter II)

Hypocrisy serves as a major motif in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Here, Linda’s grandmother recognizes an instance of hypocrisy, calling it out for what it is. Dr. Flint says he refuses to put Linda’s grandmother on the auction block to protect her feelings; in reality, he is trying to protect his image since everyone knows that she was supposed to be set free. The hypocrisy of the Christian slave owners serves as some of the most obvious examples because they claimed that they really were acting righteously, but their actions were anything but. Many more instances of such hypocrisy occur in the text.

"Cruelty is contagious..."   (Chapter IX)

This statement supports an important theme in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: violence begets violence. When violence and cruelty is seen as morally acceptable by those in power within a community, eventually the entire community will come to think this way.

"same standard as others..."   (Chapter X)

This statement expands on the theme that slaves are judged unfairly compared to those who are free. This passage arrives at the end of Linda’s plea for readers to accept the fact that their lives are much easier than Linda’s. She reveals the embarrassment and humiliation she experienced as a slave and reminds the readers that they never had to endure such trials. Linda calls out the hypocrisy of people who compare the deeds she has done to those done by free, white women. Her lived experiences are too different to compare and therefore it is unfair to judge her by the same standards.

"principles of morality..."   (Chapter X)

This statement expands on one of the themes of the book: that being forced to live as a slave limits one’s moral choices. Linda wants to live in a way that protects her virtue and self-respect, but due to her circumstances she cannot always make her own choices. Her choices are limited and so sometimes she must do things she does not condone in principle in order to live.

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