Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

NOOK Book(eBook)

$3.99 View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.


In what has become a landmark of American history and literature, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl recounts the incredible but true story of Harriet Jacobs, born a slave in North Carolina in 1813. Her tale gains its importance from her descriptions, in great and painful detail, of the sexual exploitation that daily haunted her life—and the life of every other black female slave.

As a child, Harriet Jacobs remained blissfully unaware that she was a slave until the deaths of both her mother and a benevolent mistress exposed her to a sexually predatory master, Dr. Flint. Determined to escape, she spends seven years hidden away in a garret in her grandmother’s house, three feet high at its tallest point, with almost no air or light, and with only glimpses of her children to sustain her courage. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, she finally wins her battle for freedom by escaping to the North in 1842.

A powerful, unflinching portrayal of the brutality of slave life, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl stands alongside Frederick Douglass’s classic autobiographies as one of the most significant slave narratives ever written.

Farah Jasmine Griffin is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University in New York City.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781411432390
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 06/01/2009
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 113,158
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

From Farah Jasmine Griffin’s Introduction to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

In the closing pages of her now-classic narrative Harriet Jacobs writes:

The more my mind had become enlightened, the more difficult it was for me to consider myself an article of property; and to pay money to those who had so grievously oppressed me seemed like taking from my sufferings the glory of triumph.

As this sentence suggests, Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl not only is a record of the experience of a slave and her escape from slavery; it is also a document of the narrator’s growing political consciousness about the system of American slavery. Although the book does not focus on the narrator’s politicization, it is nonetheless a product of her movement from a general understanding of her persecution under slavery and the overall injustice of the system to a more activist orientation and devotion to social change. Nowhere is this movement more evident than in the first chapter, “Childhood.” Jacobs writes:

I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away. . . . [My parents] lived together in a comfortable home; and, though we were all slaves, I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise, trusted to them for safe keeping, and liable to be demanded of them at any moment.”

Jacobs’s narrative opens as do many nineteenth-century slave narratives, with the phrase, “I was born a slave.” The statement is immediately qualified with “but I never knew it.” Here Jacobs initiates a trend in African-American letters: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and Zora Neale Hurston all present protagonists who do not recognize their status as slaves or, post-emancipation, as members of a degraded and despised race. By narrating her innocence in language that exposes a later understanding and critique of the institution of chattel slavery, Jacobs communicates a movement from innocence to knowledge, from naiveté to political consciousness.

By the time of the publication of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the author had become a member of abolitionist circles in Rochester, New York, and a close personal friend of radical abolitionists Isaac and Amy Post. In fact, it was Amy Post to whom Jacobs eventually confided her personal history; the Quaker activist encouraged her to write her own narrative. At first reluctant to expose her sexual history, with the support of her daughter, Louisa Matilda, and her friend Amy Post, Jacobs agreed to write her narrative, and in so doing, issue a blow in the battle against slavery.

Born in 1813, in Edenton, North Carolina, Jacobs lived for part of her childhood with her mother, Delilah, her father, Elijah, a carpenter, and her younger brother, John. The family lived close to Jacobs’s stalwart grandmother, Molly, as well as Molly’s other children. Molly’s mistress, Mary Horniblow, made gifts of each of Molly’s daughters to her own daughters: Delilah was given to the invalid Margaret Horniblow.

Jacobs remembered her parents as “a shade of brownish yellow . . . termed mulattoes.” She writes of her childhood as a happy and safe one. Upon the death of her mother, when Harriet was six years old, the child was sent to live with her mother’s mistress, Margaret, and for the first time learned of her status as a slave. Margaret promised to care for her beloved slave’s children. The young Miss Horniblow taught Harriet to read and to sew but failed to free her upon her own death. Instead, she willed the child to her three-year-old niece, Mary Matilda Norcom, the daughter of her sister, Mary Horniblow Norcom, and Dr. James Norcom. Twelve-year-old Harriet was sent to live with the lecherous Dr. Norcom, who sexually harassed and tormented her throughout her adolescence.

At sixteen Harriet entered into a relationship with a young white neighbor, the future U.S. congressman Samuel Tredwell Sawyer. That union produced two children, Joseph and Louisa Matilda. In 1835, fearing Norcom would send her children to live on his son’s plantation, Harriet ran away. She hoped Norcom would sell the children and that their father would purchase them. The plan worked; Sawyer bought the children. Though he did not free them, he allowed them to live with Jacobs’s grandmother. Jacobs secretly returned to her grandmother’s home as well. There she hid in a garret for seven years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Illustrated + FREE audiobook link + Active TOC) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 476 reviews.
sybil_rising More than 1 year ago
I chose the book because it was a great deal, and I figured this is a topic I could definitely stand to know more about; but I was surprised to find that Harriet Jacobs was a woman I felt I could relate to, regardless of the centuries and culture gap between us. She writes with passion and intelligence, and her revelations of the cruelty of the slave trade are tempered with anecdotes of familial love and the kindness of others who are sympathetic to the plight of the slaves. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl reads as easily as Jane Eyre and if you are interested in narratives involving slavery, women in the 1800's, or simply a story about someone who clings to the hope of a better life and will suffer almost anything to achieve it, this book is worth your time.
Mummbles45 More than 1 year ago
Linda's story is one of the most inspiring stories that I have ever read. When I was done with this book I felt proud to be a woman of African descent. Though I still do not understand how something as foul as the institution of slavery could have been allowed to exist for so long, this story speaks of the unbreakable spirit of my ancestors, their unyielding drive to rise above their oppressors, their unwillingness to succumb if only in their minds and hearts to the absurd notion that they were just a piece of property. Linda's decision to focus on her children, educate them, and free them; her decision to let go of the unattainable idea of marriage in the presence of a predatory slave master speaks to her resilience, superb intellect, and the power of the human mind. This is an easy read though I had to stop a couple of times to wrap my mind around some of the atrocities being described.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! This is the third slave narrative I have read this year, and this is the most compelling and endearing by far! The novel intertwined the narrative voice of a slave woman with the sense of sentimentality that was predominant in novels of the period. I would definitely recommend this novel to other readers of ethnically-influenced literature.
Lexus More than 1 year ago
Easy read and very informative. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in America's past.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book you can't put down. I was amazed how well written the book was. This is the true story of a women with integrity and decency who is forced to live a life of abuse, humiliation and fear. I gained an insight into slavery that I never had before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the book. I think that is crazy how someone can go through so much hardship and still have the courage to write about it and share it with the world. I like the intensity of the book and the commitment she had for getting her children and herself free, and how she went about doing it, how she became involved with another white man to get him to escape her own master and get the freedom she dreamed of.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I purchased "Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl" I did not know what to expect. From the first few pages I was impressed with how well organized and easy to read the Narrative was. I highly recommend this book not just for those interested in books focusing on African American Studies, but for anyone interested in reading an original story of a Slave girl living in the anteblellum South. If you like Frederick Douglass's Narrartive, you certainly find Harriet Jocabs just as fascinating.
Lady-of-the-Word More than 1 year ago
This book is written by a woman who although born a "slave" in America was determined to have freedom and equality for herself and her children. She suffered many hardships and acts of cruelty towards herself and her children but never saw herself as a "victim." Indeed, she saw herself as an equal to all other women and even to men! She was intelligent and blessed with wisdom and foresight and much of her life was spent trying to obtain freedom for herself and her children. This book is a "must read" for those who believe that slaves in America were treated as "children" and "family" by their masters. It is a strong reality check of what the truth was back then and gives insight into the strength and power of love for God, oneself and real family.
Tomika Roberson More than 1 year ago
This is a must read!!! I loved reading this book! It was very interesting to read how this courageous woman was willing to risk her life by standing up for herself and her children. She took great risks and came near death a few times to obtain her freedom; to live in a space where you are barely ble to move for as long as she did is an unthinkable act. She kept her faith in God and because of that she was able to obtain her freedom gor herself and children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i had to read this book for school and i really liked it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i had to read this for class i would read it again for leisure. the only reason i dont give it more stars is because the way it is written is more autobiographical though she fictionalizes her name so as not to point at her identity directly. but this is a great book about the life of a slave girl, right up there with douglas. though douglas's is better.
penned More than 1 year ago
what a mother won't do for her children. how very sad a story of life during slavery and the treachery that was bestowed on a race of people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very well written! It was a very sad story, and gave the reader insight into what it was like to grow up as an African slave in the South during one of the darkest times in American history. I would suggest to those who are interested in purchasing this book that they are at a more advanced level of reading. Great book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book as it gave me a better understanding of what atrocities and sufferings slaves had to deal with. Even when they risked their lives to travel up North, and when they arrived there they were still treated with such indignities. It was even more compelling at how a black woman at this time was able to put into words her story and to have it published; that was, at that time, unheard of. Especially knowing it was against the law for a black person to learn to read or write. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to get a better understanding of this horrific time in US history CL10801
marissajz More than 1 year ago
I truly treasure this piece. Harriet Jacobs is eloquent and altogether bewitching in her narrative. I could not put it down. This is for certain one of my favorite books of all time. For me, I found her tone, narrative, and description just right. It is an important book that I think should be required for middle school students to read.
LaToya Hall More than 1 year ago
I realy appreciated this woman's heart wrenching story. I had a hard time puting my nok down. THE ONLY COMPLAINT i have is that the copy was a bit bad. There were many mispelled word...I mean it was so bad that you really werent able to guess what the word was. Other than that I wouls recommend. I LOVE CLASSICS and am only sorry that I didnt read this sooner.
Sofia_NW More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed and it was one of the 1st books I got for my nook. I needed it to write a paper for school and usually books you have to read are boring. This one was really enjoyable. Just still need to work out how to cite this source from the nook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a hard one to put down. As a mother, I could truly relate to just how powerful and motivating a mother's love for her children can be.
Evana More than 1 year ago
Harriet Jacobs writes to us from a place in history most of us have never been exposed to. Without such notable classics with which to enlighten our limited experience, none of us would be able to continue conversing upon controversial subject matter as we pull forward into this century. My immediate response when I turned the last page was...'oh, wish I had not read so swiftly!!'...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Human bondage is a scar on our nation¿s history. It tore through the land of America as wildfire would thrash ravenously through sun-dried hills during summer. Yet, despite the complaints of slavery sprinkled throughout the history books of our contemporary era, nothing can be a more wretchedly vibrant window into the procedure of slavery than a first-hand account. `Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl¿ has the remarkably real abilities of a fictitious time machine, transporting the reader back through the centuries to the desolate routine of one whose spirit has been tied by the will of another, an equal human. Throughout the course of the book, the reader is acquainted with the characters, and forms a virtual friendship with such heroes of the fictitiously represented past. A must read for those eager to view the past through real, human eyes, `Incidents¿ will forever grace your bookshelf with vivid memories, and the inspiring story of good finally triumphing over a heartless, evil grasp.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such an exquisite read. I finished it in less than a day because I couldn't put it down. Marvelous!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lorianna1129 More than 1 year ago
Offers an insight on the slave's point of view. A bit hard to take in at times, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a great read! So enlighting and thankful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a book that you well for sure pass the author on to your friends