Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet A. Jacobs, is both an easy read and a very difficult read. Easy in that it is gripping and hard to put down, especially knowing that it is a true story. Difficult, especially knowing that it’s a true story, because it is very hard to read of the despicable ways people were considered property and were treated with no respect, no regard for their feelings, and with no hope or expectation of relief. Many times the incidents and situations brought me to tears or made me tense with anger. This is history we should be aware of, not merely intellectually, but also on an emotional and social level, of how it affected countless people in our country.
While I was aware of the fact that these abuses had happened, reading this book drove home the horror of what life was like, in particular for slave girls and women. It also made clear that even though some slaveholders were benevolent and genuinely cared for their slaves, they were still lacking in understanding of how the system of slavery dehumanized and endangered anyone who was considered property.
While I am thankful for the decency, support, friendship, and genuine love shown by those who worked hard to free slaves or end the institution of slavery, I am appalled at the fact that slavery existed as an institution and that it remained for so long. This narrative of Jacobs’ life, with all she and others she knew suffered, drives home the inhumanity of any human being thinking they have the right to own another. The fact that so many people who were considered respectable citizens owned slaves, some abusing them horrendously, others acting benevolently but still not emancipating their slaves, starkly demonstrates how deceived one can be about others and even about oneself. I recommend reading this book with an open heart and mind to learn more about a deplorable chapter in our history and also to learn about human nature, both the dreadful and the gracious and forgiving.