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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
by Harriet Jacobs
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, Dec 13 2002
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Linda Brent is a deeply touching narrative of a slave woman's journey through the heinous institution of slavery to her eventual emancipation. Through her description of bonded labor, the reader very poignantly realizes what it was like for millions of African Americans to be brutalized and ravaged by slavery. Written in 1861 to educate the Northerners, especially the women, about the evils of slavery, the autobiography is a harrowing account of a woman's life, what the author ironically calls her 'adventures'. The abuse that the palpably intelligent and veracious author had to undergo has the power to humble every one of us even today.
Linda Brent was born as a slave in the household of a miraculously benevolent mistress. She lost her mother at the age of six, but her mistress, who was her mother's half-sister, took good care of her and endowed on her ward the gift of literacy. The degradative reality of slavery was hidden from the author till she entered her early teens, when within a year both her mistress and her father passed away, and she was acquired by the household of Dr. Flint. At his plantation, the author had to bear the full force of slavery. From this time to the author's eventual freedom, the reader gets a glimpse of the persecution that a slave had to face.
As mentioned above, the book was written to illustrate the depravity of slavery to people living in the North. It is striking to see how humbly, or even apologetically, the author has used her life to explain the circumstances of slavery. She has used fictitious names and concealed the names of places so as not to offend any person, black or white. As one reads the book, the author can definitely be identified as a pious and truthful person, and becomes easy to see why the author places so much emphasis on her secrecy. The book is not written to garner sympathy from readers, but to shock readers into the realities of slavery. It was an appeal to the people who the author thought had the power to defeat slavery to act on it.
The author's main argument is that slavery is not just about perpetual bondage, but it involves the absolute debasement of a people. She painfully acknowledges that the 'black man is inferior', but vociferously argues that it is a result of slavery, which stymies the intellectual capacity of her race. She believes that 'white men compel' the black race to be ignorant. Although she was wronged by many Southern white men, she does not blame the white race for her ills. She believes that the institution of slavery has ample negative impact on the household and psyche of a white family as well, and that white males are coerced into being brutal. She rebukes 'the Free States' in her own pacific way for condoning slavery in the South. Her stand is that a life of manumit destitution is radically more acceptable than bondage, and that is the general idea that the author wants the readers to remember.
The book is sequenced more or less in a chronological order. The author's astoundingly comfortable childhood is shattered by the nefarious demands of being a pubescent female slave. She explains how even the body of a slave is not her own, and is considered to be a property of the slaveholder, that can violated or abused according to his wishes. Her analogy to being traded or shot like pigs demonstrates the extent of shame that a slave had to bear with. Her infatuation and blind faith in the goodness of a white man make her the mother of two children, and her determination to keep them away from the evils of slavery becomes her primary goal. In her attempts to flee from slavery, she has to hide in a den above her grandmother's house for seven years. The anguish of a mother who can see her children but not be able to communicate with them is heart wrenching. The story of her escape to the North is also incredible. Even after reaching the north, she had to resist prejudice and fear for a long time before she and her children eventually became free.
By reading the book, the reader can definitely get to experience the life of a slave. Perhaps the shocking brutality of the truth is shielded in the book by the author's conscious effort to not be a cause of affront. She wrote this book because she had a message to give to the readers, but was held back in a way by her goodness. On the other hand, reading a book written in a simple way, as though the author was narrating her story in front of the reader, goes on to validate her tragedy. It is explained in a more personal way than a historian would explain it, and the harsh emotions experienced by the author break through, even though she tries to suppress her sadness. The author's argument that slavery is humiliating is proved by the fact that the author does not explain exactly how she was mentally and physically abused. She only points out that she had to bear physical and mental decadence, but does elaborate on the techniques of the likes of Dr. Flint.
It has to be remembered that this book was not written to be a historical text. It is about a woman's personal fight with slavery. It cannot be argued that her emotions were wrong or that her views about slavery can be challenged in any way. Readers who have not experienced slavery are not in a position to do so. This book definitely manages to do what it was intended to do, and that is to make the reader aware that slavery was a harrowing experience for the African Americans. As a book of past injustices and future hopes, it is a must read.

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