When does someone lose the will to live? Is it when they have lost their job, house, or family? Or is it when a person loses all of these things, and more? A slave in the 1800s had no prospects of happiness; their families could be ripped away from them at any moment and never to be seen again. They were forced to work for no pay and were provided inadequate rations and housing. For generations, beliefs of low self-worth and inferiority to whites were shoved upon them. How can these slaves possibly find sources of strength to get up every morning and return to their deprived lives? In Incidents of a Life of a Slave Girl, Linda demonstrates how a slave, no matter how much they have suffered, were able to find sources of strength, whether it was from religion, family, or values taught by elders.
Throughout this novel, it shows Dr. Flint trying everything to break Linda’s will. He tries everything from whispering horrible things into her ear to even being nice to try to get her to sleep with him.1 But no matter how hard Dr. Flint tried, he could not make Linda to surrender to him. This was because Linda had been taught high self-worth and values her whole life.
In the first six years of Linda’s life, she was provided a blissful childhood and never found out she was not a normal child, but a piece of property that white man owned.2 Her grandmother had taught her to have high morals and values throughout her life which couldn’t be corrupted even when Dr. Flint filled Linda’s mind with unclean images.3 These experiences led Linda to have high self-worth and to think highly of herself. This source of strength helped Linda overcome her torment by Dr. Flint by not succumbing to his wants of sleeping with her. Even though she knew that would have made her life much easier, she decided to stick to her moral high ground and not submit to Dr. Flint.
While Linda had been praised for her moral code, she succumbed to a white man, Mr. Sands, because she believed that it would give her a source of strength over Dr. Flint when she told him she was with another man, even though he didn’t react with anger, but surprise.4
She then relied on the largesse of her grandmother, but when Linda told her, her grandmother replied “Oh Linda! Has it come to this? I had rather see you dead than to see you as you now are. You are a disgrace to your dead mother.”5 After reconciling, her grandmother helped her through her ordeal and even pleaded Mr. Sands to buy her granddaughter.6 Linda suffered immensely from her decision to have an affair with Mr. Sands and without the love and guidance of her grandmother, Linda might have not made it through her tribulations.
In 1831, Nat Turner led the bloodiest slave rebellion in southern history.7 Slaves had been oppressed for centuries and now they were finally successfully fighting back against the white people. Nat Turner became a legendary black hero to the ante-bellum southern slaves who had “murdered white people because slavery had murdered Negroes.8 Turner was not seen as a murderous criminal, but as a victim of a corrupt system.9 Turner was a slave rebel that gave slaves a source of strength to fight against slavery themselves.
While slaves couldn’t read, one of the sources of strengths for slaves came straight from the bible. Nothing brought greater happiness to the slaves than singing hymns about faith in the Lord and listening to sermons that were simple to understand.10 Before Nat Turner’s rebellion, slaves were allowed to visit a little church in the woods that they had built themselves; they would meet there to sing hymns together and pray.11 While this church taught the slaves that they were inferior to the whites, church was a great source of strength to the slaves because it brought them together to learn about their maker and sing hymns.
On the first day of January, it was hiring day for the slaves. Holidays such as New Years Eve and Christmas were celebrated to provide slaves strength and distracted them from the possibility of getting sold to a cruel owner or getting separated from their family.12 Johnkanand dancers performed on Christmas morning as the greatest attraction and presents were given to children from Santa Claus.13
The most important source of strength for a slave was their family and loved ones.
Slaves had grown up with nothing and the only happiness they received was being surrounded by close friends and family. Family made slaves feel not so alone and helped each other through their struggles and hardships. Love was copious among the slaves, as was their instilling hatred toward slave owners.
When Linda bore her first child, it was too premature making Linda very weak. “I had often prayed for death; but now I did not want to die, unless my child could die.”14 Linda prayed for his life even though it was considered a mockery to do so because slavery was worse than death.15
When Linda discovers that her children will have to go through many hardships as slaves after Dr. Flint reveals that he will place them on the plantation, she flees because she knows that as long as her children are in her power, they will never be sold to her grandmother. 16 To keep her children safe, Linda spends the next seven years in a garret hidden in her grandmother’s house.
Only nine feet long and seven feet wide, the garret had neither light nor air and was infested with rats and mice.17 The only thing that kept Linda sane was a one-inch hole that let her see her children running around.18 While she could neither talk nor speak to them, Linda’s children were her greatest source of strength during this period of her life because they were the only thing that were letting her survive in that cramped garret for seven years.
No one can really know the horrors of what slaves had gone through. Society has tried to emulate this through books, movies, and plays but cannot truly demonstrate the depth of pain and torture that slaves had to live through every day. Even after seeing the superficial reenactments, one still wonders how these slaves could persevere through their hapless lives. There were numerous things that helped a slave just get through the day; it could be as simply as knowing that their family was safe or staying true to themselves and what they believed in. Slaves needed various sources of strength, varying from love of a family member to a symbol of rebellion.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. (New York: Barnes and Noble Classics) 2005.
Oates, Stephen B. “The Fires of Jubliee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion,” Portrait of America, ed. Oates, Stephen B. and Errico, Charles J. Vol. One and Two, Tenth Ed. 2012.
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