illustrated portrait of main character Linda Brent

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

by Harriet Jacobs

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What prompts Linda's decision to escape in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl?

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Linda chooses to run away when she learns that her children are to be "broke in" as slaves at the Flint plantation. She understands that her children are being used as a kind of blackmail against her: Mr. Flint believes that as long as her children are in his power, Linda will be obedient. However, when Linda learns from a visiting gentleman the plans for her children, she immediately determines to run away. The decision to leave her children is a difficult one, but she knows that her continued presence at the plantation will only bring more harm to them and to herself. In fact, Linda's desire to be a mother to her children and to look out for their welfare against all odds is the central theme of her story. While her decision to leave her children in order to save them seems counterintuitive, it is another desperate move on her part to outsmart the slave holders, who are constantly trying to deceive her and break her independent spirit. As Linda says at the end of Chapter 15, "My master had power and law on his side; I had a determined will. There is might in each."

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Linda decides to leave when her children are brought from her grandmother’s house to the master’s house so they can be used to control her.

Linda has always been strong-willed, but she also looks out for the best interest of her children.  It is more important to her that they be safe than that she can get away.  However, when she is brought to live in the master’s house everything changes. 

But now that I was certain my children were to be put in their power, in order to give them a stronger hold on me, I resolved to leave them that night. ("The Flight")

Knowing that her children will be servants and slaves, rather than loved as children, Linda cannot bear it.  She has to make the hard choice to leave them, because there is no longer any benefit to her staying for their sakes.

It is a difficult decision to run away knowing that you are putting your own life and that of your children at risk.  Linda realizes that she is not the only one in danger.  She wonders what will happen to her children if she is caught.  Yet knowing the alternative, it is worth the risk.  Fortunately, she gets away, and waits for her children to be sold so that they can live a better life.

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