Thesis: Furthermore, because procreation by bondwomen can be regarded as both a means of perpetuating slavery and an act of love and self-sacrifice, the sexuality of enslaved women and their relationship to their offspring must be understood as a complex negotiation involving individual agency, resistance, and power (Li 14).
- This episode introduces what Jacobs continually describes as the fundamental evil of familial bonds; its flagrant destruction of familial bonds (Li 15).
- Slavery disrupts the relationship between parent and child not only by allowing each to be sold to different masters, but by positing a figure of authority and allegiance that takes precedence over a child’s love and responsibility to his or her parent (Li 15).
- Through this episode, Jacobs highlights a disturbing parallel between the roles of master and father while also establishing a point of opposition by which to define the liberatory politics of motherhood (Li 16).
- One of the central aims of Incidents is to demonstrate the absolute incompatibility between human bondage and the family unit. This opposition places the mother as the obvious antithesis to slavery (Li 17).
- Grounded in an ethos of liberty and compassion, she represents a significant counterforce to a deeply patriarchal and male-dominated institution (Li 17).
- She suggests that the ways slave mothers care for their children, despite the immense restrictions imposed by their bondage, offer a potent means of resistance against the institution and its promoters (Li 17).
- Her mother sacrifices the truth concerning their enslaved condition to promote the possibility of a happier, freer life. Through this delicate deception, Jacobs suggests that maternal sentiment aspires to the higher truth of human freedom rather than to the fundamental indignity of slavery (Li 18).
- However, as the narrative’s dominant theme, motherhood at times becomes limited and even inadequate point of identification (Li 20).
- First, motherhood extinguishes women’s individual identities, and second, motherhood leaves women vulnerable to patriarchal power because society and individual men hold their children hostage (Li 20).
- Together, these aspects of motherhood constitute the essence of oppression – the denial of a person’s ability to define herself and to determine the course of her own destiny (Li 20).
- Karen Sanchez-Eppler explains that Jacobs “proposes the role of the ‘good mother’ as a substitute for chastitiyMotherhood replaces sexuality” (Li 21).
- Significantly, Linda takes actions that promote the well-being of her children een before they are born. Jacobs here implies that it is possible to act as a mother without physically bearing children (Li 22).
- According to Jacob’s example, motherhood involves an active attention to the welfare of others and a willingness to act upon the behalf of those who cannot help themselves; such a response is not strictly a biological phenomenon (Li 22).
- In fabricating her departure, Linda demonstrates her awareness of negative associations attached to slave mothers. She manipulates such stereotypes to her advantage by reinforcing in the minds of her captors the notion that black women have no emotional attachment to their children. In this way, Linda frees her children by posing as a bad mother (Li 24).
- This savvy use of racialized maternal images demonstrates another way that Jacob uses the discursive possibilities of motherhood to oppose slavery (Li 24).
- She sacrifices physical and emotional intimacy with her children in order to pursue her ultimate objective: their emancipation (Li 25).
Li, Stephanie. “Motherhood as Resistance in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” Legacy. 23.1 (2006): 14-29. Project Muse. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.