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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by Harriet Jacobs

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In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, why does Jacobs believe slavery is a curse to both whites and blacks, and how does she illustrate this?

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In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Jacobs claims that "slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks" because she believes that slave ownership corrupts the souls of white people. She offers ample evidence of this in the conduct of Dr. and Mrs. Flint, who make themselves and everyone around them miserable.

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Harriet Jacobs says that slavery pollutes the souls of white slave owners, writing,

It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.

Jacobs's narrative provides ample evidence of this in the mean-spirited and abusive conduct of Dr. and Mrs. Flint. Both master and mistress treat her unkindly, but they also make each other miserable in the process. Dr. Flint's selfishness and Mrs. Flint's spite are both exacerbated by their having slaves to mistreat. Even on the most basic level, it is not good for the soul or the body to be completely detached from any form of physical labor. More than this, it has a definitely corrupting effect to tyrannize over others.

These are both effects that grow worse over time. In the former case, Dr. Flint's extreme indolence and Mrs. Flint's nerves offer clear prove that they would be better and happier people if they did some work for themselves occasionally. In the latter, they become increasingly inventive in their cruelty, as when Mrs. Flint decides to spit in all the kettles and pans to prevent the hungry slaves from eating the leftovers. The Flints are wealthy, fortunate people who have enjoyed many advantages; but the corrupting effects of slave ownership have made them appalling characters, incapable of making themselves, each other, or anyone else happy.

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