Essay on Traditions in Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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A Medley of Traditions in Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Though considerable effort has been made to classify Harriet Ann Jacobs'Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself as another example of the typical slave narrative, these efforts have in large part failed. Narrow adherence to this belief limits real appreciation of the text's depth and enables only partial understanding of the author herself Jacobs's story is her own, political yes, but personal as well. Although she does draw from the genre of her people, the slave narrative, to give life and limb to her appeal for the eradication of slavery in America, she simultaneously threads a captivity narrative, a romance, and a seduction novel through
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Approximately sixty-five American slave narratives were published in book or pamphlet form before 1865" (Andrews 78). Suffice it to say, the number is astounding, especially considering the minimal literacy rate among slaves, not to mention the heightened danger posed to an author after a narrative's publication. But Jacobs and others understood the need for first-hand accounts of the horror. Thus, they took the pen in hand to do their part in strengthening the abolitionist movement. Their motive being to persuade, a particular style developed among these autobiographers, one proven successful over time in winning converts to their cause. It is by no means an accident then that Incidents includes the typical elements of a slave narrative text.

For instance, in her deference to the genre Jacobs repeatedly refers to scripture. When she denounces northerners for returning runaways to their southern masters' dens "full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness," she is quoting Matthew 23:37 (Jacobs 2215). Later she mentions Job 3:17-19, "There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor; the servant is free from his master," in support of a decision to bring her children North (Jacobs