What is the theme of Harriet Jacobs' book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl?
The central theme of this book which is very different from the majority of slave narratives is the experience of slavery from the point of view of slave women. This is what makes this account so different. Jacobs argues throughout that slavery as experienced by women is much more harsh and terrible than slavery experienced by male slaves:
Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own.
She proves her argument through the presentation of her own life and the way that she has to cope with not only the "burden common to all" slaves but also the horrendous experience of being used sexually, and having absolutely no opportunity to resist such treatment. One of the most ethically troubling sections of this narrative is when she anticipates criticisms that her readers will have of her submitting to this situation and she defends herself by stating that her audience of presumably mostly white readers, whom she calls "virtuous reader" with perhaps an element of mockery, has never had to face the reality of her situation, where she is "entirely subject to the will of another." This account raises deeply troubling questions about the pragmatism of morality in deeply disturbing situations such as slavery, and also one person's ability to judge another if they themselves have not experienced that situation.