Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl: Stripped from Motherhood and Womanhood In Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl written by Harriet Jacobs in the asses, Harriet Jacobs describes her life as a slave and how she and many of the other slave women were stripped of their motherhood and womanhood on a regular basis. Many of the slave owners had children by these women, but to acknowledge this fact was a taboo subject.
Harriet Jacobs explains to her readers how these women were stripped of womanhood, by having no control over their love life, choice of sexual partner and their own bodies and motherhood by being forced to have children by hose men and by not having control over their connections with their children. In doing this, she explains to her readers the terror and loss of power that female slaves endured. Harriet Jacobs describes in great detail the troubles of being a female slave, beginning at the age of fifteen. She feared what her master would do to her, as he was always lurking around, whispering “foul words In my ear. L As a female slave, she had no right to object against the behavior that was happening to her. She had no one to talk to about this Issue due to the fact that she did not want to bring shame to ere grandmother and the wife of her master felt Jealousy and rage towards her, as did most wives of slave owners. She knew full well that she had to endure this horrible behavior because “he told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. 2 Harriet Jacobs describes slavery for women harsher than that of men, due to the fact that women have no control over their bodies or over the lives of their children.
They were not allowed to name who the father of their children was, even though many knew what the masters were doing to these poor women. She writes that “the sexual exploitation of female slaves by white masters made the lives of slave girls and women Incomparably horrible. “3 She was not attempting to get sympathy from her readers, rather she was attempting to explain how as a female slave, you have no right to your own womanhood, as those In the North did. For slaves, marriage was not sanctioned; therefore they did not have a right to choose who their lover or father of their children would be.
When Harriet did fall in love, she questioned why it mattered and why she did it. As a woman, she could not freely express her feelings toward the man she loved; for fear that her master would buses her. She also had to take into consideration how her mistress felt about her. Although her mistress was jealous of her, there was no way that she would allow Harriet to marry her lover and become a free woman, because as she states ” moreover, my mistress, like many others, seemed to think that slaves had no right to any family ties of their own. 4 For the female slave, love and marriage was nonexistent. In his autobiographical narrative, Harrier’s brother John also writes about the nature of womanhood and motherhood In slavery. He writes that “a slave’s wife or daughter may be insulted before his eyes with impunity. He himself may be called horrible treatment of a female slave is enduring and is proof that womanhood is nonexistent in slavery. For males, they had to fear being punished by their masters for running away or for refusing to participate in beating their own wives and daughters.
He sympathizes with his sister and other females slaves, for he knows they have no choice but to contribute in this horrible lifestyle. Having children as a female slave caused hate and discontent between the mistress and the slave. The mistress often knew what was happening, but took her rage and Jealousy out on the slave. Harrier’s mistress knew something was happening between her husband and Harriet, even though Harriet had described what had been occurring was her husband’s fault. 6 Both mistress and slave knew that slave owners were the father of many children.
Harriet states “my master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No, indeed! They knew all too well the terrible consequences. “7 Fear of both the master and the mistress caused the female slave o stay quiet, thus denying her motherhood and the fact that she had children with a man she did not love. Children born to slaves had to face the same challenges that their mothers did. For Harriet, having a daughter was a blessing and a curse.
She knew all too well what laid ahead in both of her children’s life, but knew that her daughter would have to suffer at the hands of a cruel master and be sexually exploited as she had been. She also knew that she had no control over what would happen to her children, her master continuously threatened to have them sold, and she knew that he could do hat because “the child shall follow the condition of the mother not the father. “8 This meant that even if the father was free, the children would remain enslaved if the mother was still a slave.
In her letter to Edna DOD Cheney, Harriet reveals that she could have lived her life out in slavery, had it not been for her children. 9 She alludes to the fact that many other women could have endured slavery too, when she says “there is no more need of hiding places to conceal slave Mothers. “10 There was no way for slave women not to have children, though. Slave women were not in control of their own dies or their sexual lives, and therefore were forced to be mothers, forcing them to fight not only for their own lives, but for the lives of their children.
Motherhood and womanhood are two things that have never been taken away from the free woman. Free women have never had to fear for their children being stripped from them. Free women have never had to worry about being molested or raped by a slave owner. Free women have never had to endure the loss of power and fear that comes with having a child. For slaves, having children was a blessing and a curse. They had no say in raising their children and often times feared their hillier being sold to others.
Harriet Jacobs’ description of how female women were stripped of not only their motherhood but also their womanhood is a reminder of how life for a slave girl was far worse than life as a male slave. Notes (Bedford/SST. Martins 2010), 52. 2. Ibid, 52. 3. Jennifer Fleischer, introduction to Incidents in the Life off Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs (Bedford/SST. Martin’s 2010), 2. 4. Jacobs, 62. 5. John S. Jacobs, “A True Tale of Slavery’ in Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life off Slave Girl, (Bedford/SST. Martins, 2010), 234. 6. Jacobs, 57-58. 7. Ibid, 59. 8. Ibid, 66 9.