The novel Incidents in the life of a slave girl is an autobiography written by Harriet Jacobs in 1861. In this book, she relates various events of the life she had when she was a slave in South Carolina. She confides in the reader and gives details of the difficulties she had to face in her everyday life.
We are going to show to which extent this book can be seen as a female Bildungsroman. First, you have to know that a Bildungsroman is the story of a single individual's growth and development within the context of a defined social order; it is a novel about a main character's self-development from childhood to adulthood.Can we say that Harriet Jacobs reached that self development when reading her story? And how does she manage to tell the reader about her experience? In a first part, we'll show that Incidents in the life of a slave girl is a Bildungsroman (according to the criteria that we've just mentioned). Then, we'll analyse the book as a female narrative. And eventually, we'll clarify the relations between the author, the heroine and the reader in the book.
[...] As she says in the chapter about the trials of girlhood, 15th year is a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl”. We can feel that she is absolutely disgusted by this attitude when she says saw a man of 40 years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature”. Although we understand completely what happened to her, we can note that Harriet Jacobs remains evasive, that she cannot exactly say it to us: probably by prudery, decency - remember that it took place in the 19th century - but also because it is hard for her to immerse herself in those events again. [...]
[...] In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs wanted to denounce slavery, so we can say that this book is a testimony, and what the reader is expected to learn from this book is the abomination of slavery. Indeed, she was asked to write this book by an abolitionist woman in order to heighten the awareness of the people of the North about the problem of the slaves. So this is above all a narrative of a slave that aims at informing the reader about slavery: “This peculiar phase of Slavery has generally been kept veiled; but the public ought to be made acquainted with its monstrous features (Maria Child, in the Preface of the Editor). [...]
[...] Harriet Jacobs writes: “with those gloomy recollections come tender memories of my good old grandmother, like light, fleecy clouds floating over a dark and troubled sea.” We can easily understand the importance of the grandmother who acted like a mother for Linda. In this sentence, we're given an impression of lightness; the comparison with clouds floating over a “threatening” sea symbolizes the role of the grandma, protecting Linda from the horrors of the slave life. By speaking of her grandma in the last sentences, she wants to dedicate the book to her. [...]
[...] In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the Bildungsroman is accompanied with an autobiographical dimension. Indeed, the most obvious clue is the presence of the first person, the other is simply the preface of the book by the editor, Maria Child, which clearly says author of this following autobiography the life told in the book is Harriet Jacob's, hidden under another name, Linda, a name that essentially aimed at concealing the identity of the author because of the Fugitive Law. [...]
[...] What would you be if you had been born and brought up a slave?” Harriet Jacobs has freed herself from bad memories, from the yoke of Dr Flint by writing her story. She says that it is difficult for her to recall painful events of her life, but perhaps it is the way to see them differently, to heal the buried wounds. It is obvious that, with her experience, she has made up her mind about slavery, the way she was treated as a woman. [...]
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