Thursday, October 15, 2009

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Michael Fong
English 48A
Journal #8 Harriet Jacobs
October 15, 2009

"Why does the slave ever love? Why allow the tendrils of the heart to twine around objects which may at any moment be wrenched away by the hand of violence? When separations come by the hand of death, the pious soul can bow in resignation, and say, 'Not my will, but thine be done, O Lord!' But when the ruthless hand of man strikes the blow, regardless of the misery he causes, it is hard to be submissive. I did not reason thus when I was a young girl. Youth will be youth. I loved, and I indulged the hope that the dark clouds around me would turn out a bright lining. I forgot that in the land of my birth the shadows are too dense for light to penetrate." (Jacobs 1812)

"I have very little occasion to alter the language, which is wonderfully good..." (Lydia Maria Child on Harriet Jacobs)

Under the pseudonym Linda Brent, Jacobs recalls the early days of her slavery when she fell in love with a free born colored man. Although being deeply in love, at the same time she perceives the difficulty and the impracticability of such marriage between them due to her status as a slave. The dream of love and marriage never came true for her due to the tyrannical measures that Dr. Flint took against her.

Putting aside the physical hardships as well as torture that slaves had to go through, the mental torment in itself is already more than enough to drive one into a state of maddening despair. Slaves being treated as mere animals is evident in many autobiographical works of African Americans. Men are used as cattle to plow the fields, while women are paired up to "mate" with whomever the slave owner wishes to produce "offspring" to tend for his or her growing estate. The sheer outrageousness is frankly quite unbearable.

True, in terms of the literature Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is superbly written. True, the language, as Child puts it, is wonderfully good. Yet at the same time, while we, as modern readers, are blessed with such an eloquently written document that provides us with valuable insights of the past, I could not but ponder upon the saddening cause of such a piece of literature to be written. The words are not gushed upon paper due to the gentle urges and consolation of the Muse, nor are they inspired by divine intervention, nor are they the product of scenic surroundings; instead, they are the words spawned from the crack of cold, pitiless whips and empty stomachs. Is it not ironic and heart rending that beautiful literature has such despairing origins?

1 comment:

  1. 20 points. So much literature was written out of the depths of despair -- De profundis as Wilde would have said (from prison); or Boethius, for that matter.