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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  24,988 ratings  ·  1,378 reviews
The true story of an individual's struggle for self-identity, self-preservation, and freedom, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl remains among the few extant slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiographical account chronicles the remarkable odyssey of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) whose dauntless spirit and faith carried her from a life of servitude and degradati ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published November 9th 2001 by Dover Publications (first published 1861)
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Roots by Alex HaleyUncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher StoweKindred by Octavia E. ButlerIncidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet JacobsThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
Books about American slavery
4th out of 224 books — 251 voters
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Best African American Books
38th out of 575 books — 729 voters

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Community Reviews

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This book was first published in 1861 and reprinted in the 1970s. Scholars initially doubted it was written by a slave. Thankfully, Harvard University Press authenticated and published findings of the 1980s, and Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs' biographer, dug up proof of the authenticity of this autobiography through letters and documents. I only regret not having the 1987 Harvard University Press edition edited by Yellin.

Jacobs seemed to anticipate the doubting Thomas, even as she wrote:
Reader, it is not to awaken sympathy for myself that I am telling you truthfully what I suffered in slavery. I do it to kindle the flame of compassion in your heart for my sisters who are still in bondage, suffering as I once suffered.

In the pre-civil war period of 1861, Harriet Jacobs was the only black woman in the United States to have authored her own slave narrative, in a call to "arouse the women of the North to a realizing sense of the condition of two millions of women at the South...t
Letters of a Slave Girl by Mary Lyons was recommended to me, and maybe that one is easier to read than this book. That is a novel based on the life of Harriet Jacobs, and this book was actually written by her. She was a slave in the town I grew up in. It's been hard for me to finish it because it is really hard to let my mind be taken into a society like that. Her owner was a prominent member of the community, the doctor. I keep thinking, "I'm so glad I have never heard that the town doctor was ...more
Amanda Bratschie
I found this book in the free classics section of Amazon the other night when I couldn't sleep. I couldn't put it down - finished the whole thing within 30 hours. Slavery is such a heartbreaking thing - this book really helped me understand how devastating it was and why it had such a lasting impact on our society. Highly recommend.
You know, for being such a short book, this one packs a wallop. I think that we're all used to stories about the brutality and horrors of slavery, and that is a part of this memoir as well, but mostly it is focused on how degrading and dehumanizing and mentally torturous it is to be considered someone's property, to be used and treated however they feel, as though you're a throw rug to be taken out and beat for a while.

I don't think that there's much that I could say about this book that hasn't
Jan 14, 2008 Sarah rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mothers
Recommended to Sarah by: Valerie Van Horn
Well, it's a detailed book of the de-womanizing cruelties of slavery, which is always an interesting and educational read, but never easy or uplifting read. One thing I liked about this book compared to other slavery experience books I've read is the heart-wrenching description of the "slave mother's" soul, heartache, trials, worries, etc. The huge reason, though, I only gave this book 2 stars was because of my innate skepticism and the debated controversary always surrounding this book--many sa ...more
Feb 24, 2011 Flannery marked it as to-read-and-have  ·  review of another edition
Okay, the cutest old man was one of our bazillion proctors at the bar exam and I joked with him in the elevator about how if I were him, I'd be freaking psyched for the day because it would mean 8 hours of reading. He told me all about how he was reading this interesting book. He came over later and asked me for my address so he could mail it to me when he finished it:-) But when I turned in my last set of questions for the day, he said he finished it for me and forked it over. What a sweetheart ...more
Ken Moten
Nov 17, 2015 Ken Moten rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: This is THE autobiography of slavery
"READER be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of my adventures may seem incredible but they are nevertheless strictly true. I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery, on the contrary, my descriptions fall far short of the facts. I have concealed the names of places and given persons fictitious names. I had no motive for secrecy on my own account, but I deemed it kind and considerate towards others to pursue this course.

I wish I were more competent to the tas
Dec 14, 2007 Stephani rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to learn about slavery from the "house negro" POV
Next time you hear somebody going on about how the "mulatto" or "house negro" class in slave days were "privileged" and "got over" on the "field negroes," tell them to read this book. Sure, the "mulatto" or "light-skinned" slaves got to work in the house or were sometimes allowed to work away from the plantation in a trade and sometimes got to keep their own money. If they were really lucky, they might be taught to read on the sly.
However, these "privileges" were likely to be taken away at any m
The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization in the United States. I well know the value of that bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the mi

Harriet Jacobs, a slave in Edenton, North Carolina, was fortunate in the sense that she was never whipped. But her life was nonetheless a living hell. An attractive mulatto, she was sexually harassed by her owner, the town's respectable doctor, for years, and despised by the owner's wife because of it. She surrendered her morals (this was the way she and her grandmother saw it) to another white man who was kind to her in order to at least have some control over her situation. She bore two childr
This is what I'm talking about.

It's Abolitionist week for my work this week, so I've read this, and Uncle Tom's Cabin, and I'm really, really glad I read this second. I couldn't have sat through a sentimentalist novel by a white lady after this. I would probably have projectile vomited all over it.

Earlier in the year, I read Lynn Hunt's fantastic book, Inventing Human Rights , the main premise of which is that literature sparks empathy better than anything else, so reading about other people's
True memoir penned by Harriet Jacobs and the inhumanity of life as a slave. This was written in 1861 and was very controversial at the time of it's release, as many debunked the truth of Jacobs because slaves were not allowed to learn how to write or read. (Ms. Jacobs was a house servant who's mistress ~ ie owner ~ allowed her to take books to her grandmother's and also helped her to read and write; her mistress was 7 years old.)

The cruelty which we inflict on other human beings never ceases to
Aric Cushing
This book is riveting. The fact that it was written at all is unbelievable. THIS should be required reading in high schools, but unfortunately I don't think it's on the list.
My eighth grade history teacher, who fancied himself an iconoclast conservative in a sea of conformist liberals, once said in class that slaveowners treated slaves well because they needed to protect their property, like a Cadillac. He did not ask what the single African-American in that advance class thought. I recently heard someone take the same faux inconoclastic position. If there is justice, I hope both men are sentenced to read this book for eternity. What Jacobs proves is that slaveowner ...more
Barbara Mitchell
This book is a free book available for Kindle and as there are so few memoirs of slaves written by themselves, I couldn't resist. You most likely know it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write and those who did learn usually kept that fact secret. This slave, however, as a house slave had access to reading materials and read especially newspapers and the Bible all her life to give pertinent news to other slaves.

Her name was Linda. She was owned by the very young daughter of a doctor, but
Why does the slave ever love? Why allow the tendrils of the heart to twine around objects which may at any moment be wrenched away by the hand of violence?

Six generations after outlawing of the "living death" that was slavery, virtually everyone agrees with the general sentiment that slavery was awful. But while the physical torment endured by slaves is what is often at the forefront of the discussion, the emotional and psychological toll is indescribable. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl"
Petra X
I might do a proper review of this fantastic book at some point but Goodreads is really annoying me with allowing all my reviews to be shared on Google Books and Google Play although I did not check the box that allows them to do so. So review in spoilers...

(view spoiler)
A retelling of the lives of black slaves of the south through the eyes of one born a slave during the pre-civil war years in America. Harriet tells not only her own story, but countless others, and at the time it was written, it fanned the abolitionist fires that started a war.

Much of her story exposes not only the cruel and inhuman treatment of slaves in general, but also the sexual predatory ways of men in power- i.e. her own tyrannical master, Doctor Flint. The author loathed her position an
Kay Prime
Jan 02, 2011 Kay Prime rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: ALL americans, african americans especially, anyone else interested in american history or slavery
It is my understanding that slave narratives were written to aid the abolitionist in persuading white northerners to join the movement by illustrating the horrors of slavery. Considering the era and her audience, I realize it was necessary for Jacobs' language to bring attention to such vulgarities without actually being vulgar. Personally, I felt her portrayal was too tame when it came to describing the 'brutality and injustice inflicted on female slaves that trampled on their humanity and thei ...more
This is the horrific story of slavery as practiced in the United States until the Civil War. It is the personal history of Harriet Jacobs who managed to escape to the North after spending seven years hidden in a small, cramped crawlspace which only marginally protected her from the elements. In addition to telling her personal story, she relates the tortured lives of other slaves. She shows how slavery as practiced by the South was degrading, not only to the slaves themselves, but to the white f ...more
Liz and just finished reading this one out loud. I'm going to have to go back and read it again. It was another one of those situations where too much time passed between when we started reading it, when we continued reading it, and when we finished it up.

It was very good, albeit horrific.

I wrote a lot more, but have since deleted it. It's not worth starting down one train of thought when I don't have the time to hash it out.

I'll say this: Harriet Jacobs had a difficult life, full of pain. She s
Feb 03, 2010 Adrianna rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Teenagers and Adults
Recommended to Adrianna by: Mrs. Joan Barrows
I had read this narrative before, at least three different times, but the repeat reading only brings more of the details to the reader's attention. Since the previous readings were so long ago, I didn't remember too many of the details of the narrative. It was like I was reading Jacobs' story for the first time. Harriet Ann Jacobs is very deliberate in her language and the way she acts as supplicator and judge. The complexity of the language is often overshadowed by the "flowery" writing of the ...more
Anna Parkinson
Having read Frederick Douglass's autobiography, I am convinced that the way a story is told depends truly on the story teller. As Douglass tells of his experience of slavery from the male's perspective, Jacobs presents to her readers an opportunity to see what slavery was like for women and children. As a woman, Jacobs's cry is not only for freedom from the bondage of slavery, but for freedom to obtain what is known as "The Cult of True Womanhood," an ideology that elevated middle-class, white w ...more
I recently read Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass and this book for a history class, to compare them, and see the difference between the point of view of a female and a male slave.

The male perspective was more violent, I guess, with more descriptions of torture and punishment... and hatred. This one by Harriet Jacobs was not really like that. She had to endure many horrible things, but her descriptions were not really as tough. Douglass described to visualize them, Jacobs only kind of
What I learned from this book was to never give up! Harriet Jacobs, a slave a plantation thinks it's time to run away when her "owner" starts to take a sexual interest in her. She hides in the attic of her gradma's cottage for about 7 years(a space about 6ft. x 3ft., also she had to lay down in order to fit!) before she finds an opportunity to escape. She literally watched her kids grow up through the cracks of the attic. I just don't know if I have it in me.

I said that I would like to give the
This is an amazingly powerful call for action, very deliberately constructed to appeal to the women of the “free” north. In so many ways it makes it clear just how slight is the difference between the author and her readers, in effect saying, “I’m just like you, therefore you’re morally obligated to rescue my (our) sisters.” It is a romance of freedom rather than love, which she explicitly makes clear in the end, “Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage.” It is qu ...more
Harriet's account was even more compelling than 12 years a slave. The narrator as daughter, granddaughter and mother, brought home just how vulnerable women in slavery were. Reading (even the Bible) and writing were punishable offenses. Their bodies were deliberately injured and pushed beyond their limits without proper sustenance. Enslaved women were lusted after, lied to and betrayed in an attempt by the slave owner to satisfy his own greed, malevolence and perversion. How did so many people t ...more
Feisty Harriet
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Yume Kitasei
This book should be required reading for any American student. I'm embarrassed I had never heard of it until I read the notes at the end of Geraldine Brook's "March". Now I want to know why they have us read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in school and not this.

"Incidents" is as readable as if it were written yesterday. It's a first person account of the life of a slave-born woman who eventually escaped to the north and wrote her own autobiography. After she runs away, she stays hidden within the same town
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Harriet Ann Jacobs, usually wrote under the name Harriet Jacobs but also used the pseudonym Linda Brent.

Harriet was born in Edenton, North Carolina to Daniel Jacobs and Delilah. Her father was a mulatto carpenter and slave owned by Dr. Andrew Knox. Her mother was a mulatto slave owned by John Horniblow, a tavern owner. Harriet inherited the status of both her parents as a slave by birth. She was
More about Harriet Jacobs...

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“Reader, did you ever hate? I hope not. I never did but once; and I trust I never shall again. Somebody has called it "the atmosphere of hell"; and I believe it is so.” 27 likes
“There is something akin to freedom in having a lover who has no control over you, except that which he gains by kindness and attachment” 13 likes
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