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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  23,582 ratings  ·  1,317 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 217 books — 236 voters
The Color Purple by Alice WalkerTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XBeloved by Toni MorrisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Best African American Books
38th out of 566 books — 688 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
This book was first published in 1861 and reprinted in the 1970s. Its accuracy was initially doubted (and if we're being honest, some still doubt it today). Scholars doubted that it was written by a slave. Well, thank goodness for Harvard University Press publishing of the 1980s. And for Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs' biographer, who dug up proof of the authenticity of this autobiography (and story) through letters and documents. I only regret not having the 1987 Harvard University Press edi ...more
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

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
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
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
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
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"
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
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)
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
Feisty Harriet
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4 stars. Powerful autobiography of Harriet Jacobs; this story of her life growing up as a slave and her eventual escape into the North is enhanced by the matter-of-fact manner which she uses to describe some terrible conditions. By matter-of-fact, I don't mean that she is accepting of these conditions - she speaks passionately about the injustices, cruelty, and hypocrisy she sees both in the south and the north - but she doesn't dramatize when she is describing them. I found this factual tone to ...more
This by far is my favorite slave narrative! Some of the major themes portrayed include self-assertion, family bond, unity, dependence, resistance, equality, and identity. What I have learned from this book is to never give up, because regardless of the circumstances if you continue to fight there will always be hope, since you, yourself are the last hope and it is up to you to make it last. Linda is a symbol of a strong female who never gives up; always keeps moving forward to accomplish her dre ...more
Thom Swennes
Remarkably abhorrent! I have recently read quite a few accounts of American slave life and the Civil War era and I must say this is one of the best. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is a remarkable work about a positive detestable system. The daily horror of life with no rights, prospects or safety positively drips from every page. The horror of seeing your family torn away and being unable to prevent it seems to be the most dreaded fate. Oddly enough most of the true stor ...more
Dec 08, 2008 Lataun rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys a true story
I have read a lot of true stories this fall about women who are oppressed. I think this one has affected me the most. This book is the epitomy of service and sacrifice given by a mother.

A lot of the books I've read lately on this subject have occurred in other countries and I can kind of distance myself from the atrocities that take place. This book was about slavery in my own country and I am embarassed that this happened here. How could we be so ignorant and cruel and believe that it was ok?

Geoff Sebesta
I've been reading a lot of slave narratives lately, and it is really bringing home to me the absolute lunacy of slavery.

Slave narratives were an entire genre of nonfiction two hundred years ago. This is one of the better ones I've read. It's very lucid and well-composed, which makes sense, because the author was locked in a crawlspace for seven years while trying to escape her "owners." She had some time to get her thoughts down in order.

I'm reading this for research for a script I'm writing. M
Michelle Kwait


An auto-biographical account under the pseudonym "Linda", Jacobs writes of her life as a slave in 19th century America. Escaping the hands of her abusive master, Dr. Flint, Linda hides in plain sight for seven years, in an attempt to help free her children (sold to their father, who frees them). The Flints search for Linda and her children, seeking to recapture them under the premise that the contract is invalid, on the grounds that Linda belongs to their daugh
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  • Narrative of Sojourner Truth
  • Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • The Classic Slave Narratives
  • Coming of Age in Mississippi
  • My Bondage and My Freedom
  • Dust Tracks on a Road
  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Written by Himself
  • Up from Slavery
  • Clotel: or, The President's Daughter
  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Our Nig
  • The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave Narrative
  • The Souls of Black Folk
  • Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People
  • When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America
  • Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
  • Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present
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...
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl & Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: Two Memoirs of Notable African-Americans During the Nineteenth Ce Harriet Jacobs: Critical Perspectives Past and Present The Classic Slave Narratives 12 Years a Slave and Other Slave Narratives Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women: An Anthology

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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.” 24 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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