The book Harriet A. Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an autobiography about her life as a slave girl. She described her childhood living with her grandmother and her grandmother’s mistress. Then it all changed when her grandmother mistress died and she was sold off to the mistress’s son, Dr. Flint. Her life started to become dark and then became darker when she got pregnant. She then did everything in her power to ensure that her children get their freedom. She went against Dr. Flint and was in great distress on the consequence she got into when they manage to get her. She pretended to go to the North but was hiding in a small cramped crawlspace in her grandmother’s house. There she saw through a small hole her children grow up without them ever knowing where she was. In the crawlspace, there was no light except the little peek hole she made, no heater or air conditioning so summer where hot and sweaty and winters were freezing cold, and the air was very thin. All her friends and family tried to hide the fact where she is. They all provided her things she needed while she stayed in the crawlspace like food, water, blankets, and etc. They were times at night they would allow her to go to the storage room so she can stretch her limbs since it’s so crapped up in the crawlspace. Dr. Flint was determined to find Jacob and bring her back. He sold her children to another man and that man set them free. The children then lived with there grandmother. She hid in the crawlspace from Dr. Flint and anyone who would try to turn her in for seven years. But all was worth the trouble because she managed to move to New York and reunite with her children as freed slaves. In this paper, I am going to argue how Jacob’s book illustrates how gender roles in both white and slave, for men and women, are formed based on work, families, and power.
One way, we can see gender role construction in Jacob’s book is white men worked while white women stayed at home. The same goes for slaves, the men worked hard labor, on the plantations, while women stayed at the masters home. The slave women would take care of the masters’ children. They stayed beside their master, mistress, or masters children and be ready to aid them whenever they’re needed. Slaves had to be obedient to their masters. If slaves ever go against their masters they would get punished, either by getting beaten up or starved. There are times they would just sell them if the master is ever tired of them. The way slaves are treated causes them to want to try to run away to the North where they can be free. Some succeed but some are captured by slave hunters and be sent back to their masters where they would get punished for trying to run away. When slave get punished some survive the punishment but some would die in the process, that how badly they were treated. The whites aren’t afraid to kill a slave especially a slave man. The slave tends to try to protect the slave women because they produce the next generation of slaves.
Another way, we can see gender role construction in Jacob’s book is through families. There are a lot of ups and down when it comes to family, both white and slaves. There are white men who go behind their wives and have affairs with a slave woman. This causes a lot of slave women to get pregnant and make the wifes upset. The wives have to carry the burden of being cheated on, no by another white woman but by a slave woman, so they get jealous. It causes the wives to want to harm the slave women or just get rid of her, but the master is the one that decides what to do with the slave. Slave women are forced to keep the secret of who the father of the baby or it will ruin the white family reputation. Slave families don’t live together forever. When a child is born into a slave family they are already considered as slaves. When the children reach a certain age the slave women or men’s master put the slave children into an auction. Slaves family when separated they never get to see each other again. Whenever a slave wants to get married, they have to get the condolences of their master.
Finally, we can see gender role construction in Jacob’s book is by power. Men have power, especially white men, they control the entire household. Anything that someone in the family or the slaves want to do something or wants to go out, they have to ask the head of the household permission, meaning the men. Men own the property, they pay the bills and provide for the family. The women are there to support the family by taking care of them. Slave men protect their families but they don’t have power than the white men do. White men consider slaves as property than as human beings. Women can’t go against their husbands, they have to support them in any way necessary. The children are taught the same way. Once the children are married, the sons become the head of their household and the daughter provide for the family by cooking, cleaning, and etc. Slaves, both men and women, don’t have the same rights as the white people, they are there to serve them. And it goes the same for slave children. Once the children come to an age where they can be auctioned they will follow the same rules as their parents and every slave that lives in the South. That is why a lot of slaves try to escape to the North, so their children won’t have to go through what they went through.
In Jacob’s book, it illustrates how slaves lived through her eyes as a slave. Its know that slaves don’t know how to read and write, and some are taught by their masters. White men back then when they wrote they would maybe change things to make them seems less of bad people. This book puts everything about slavery from a different perspective. But one thing that is troubling is how accurate is the book? Its been said by Jacob that she learned her abc’s, but is it enough to write an entire book. I believe she was able to write the book but her editor made changes to the writing so that everyone can understand. Because if you would read a dialogue from the book the writing isn’t the same as the rest of the book. Could there be a possibility that the editor would have not written the book exactly how she wanted, did he change a few things? It is a good book if want to see through the perspective of a slave. But is best to keep in mind that the book did come from her but there could be a few things the editor possibly changed because how she wrote was hard to understand.
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