Narrative Paragraph An Event That Changed Your Life

Unlike conventional slave narratives, Incidents does not acknowledge Harriet Jacobs as its author

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Harriet Jacobs was the first woman to author a fugitive slave narrative in the United States. Yet she was never as celebrated as Ellen Craft, a runaway from Georgia, who had become internationally famous for the daring escape from slavery that she and her husband, William, engineered in 1848, during which Ellen impersonated a male slaveholder attended by her husband in the role of faithful slave. (1860), the thrilling narrative of the Crafts' flight from Savannah to Philadelphia, was published under both of their names but has always been attributed to William's hand. Harriet Jacobs's autobiography, by contrast, was "written by herself," as the subtitle to the book proudly states. Even more astonishing than the Crafts' story, represents no less profoundly an African American woman's resourcefulness, courage, and dauntless quest for freedom. Yet nowhere in Jacobs's autobiography, not even on its title page, did its author disclose her own identity. Instead, Jacobs called herself "Linda Brent" and masked the important places and persons in her narrative in the manner of a novelist, renaming Norcom "Dr. Flint" and Sawyer "Mr. Sands" in her narrative. Despite her longing to speak out frankly and fully, Jacobs dreaded writing candidly about the obscenities of slavery, fear that disclosing these "foul secrets" would impute to her the guilt that should have been reserved for those, like Norcom, who hid behind such secrets. "I had no motive for secrecy on my own account," Jacobs insists in her preface to Incidents, but given the harrowing and sensational story she had to tell, the one-time fugitive felt she had little alternative but to shield herself from a readership whose understanding and empathy she could not take for granted.

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For ten years after her escape from North Carolina, Harriet Jacobs lived the tense and uncertain life of a fugitive slave. She found Louisa in Brooklyn, secured a place for both children to live with her in Boston, and went to work as a nursemaid to the baby daughter of Mary Stace Willis, wife of the popular editor and poet, Nathaniel Parker Willis. Norcom made several attempts to locate Jacobs in New York, which forced her to keep on the move. In 1849 she took up an eighteen-month residence in Rochester, New York, where she worked with her brother, John S. Jacobs, in a Rochester antislavery reading room and bookstore above the offices of Frederick Douglass's newspaper, . In Rochester Jacobs met and began to confide in Amy Post, an abolitionist and pioneering feminist who gently urged the fugitive slave mother to consider making her story public. After the tumultuous response to (1852), Jacobs thought of enlisting the aid of the novel's author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, in getting her own story published. But Stowe had little interest in any sort of creative partnership with Jacobs. After receiving, early in 1852, the gift of her freedom from Cornelia Grinnell Willis, the second wife of her employer, Jacobs decided to write her autobiography herself.

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Writing an unprecedented mixture of confession, self-justification, and societal expose, Harriet Jacobs turned her autobiography into a unique analysis of the myths and the realities that defined the situation of the African American woman and her relationship to nineteenth-century standards of womanhood. As a result, occupies a crucial place in the history of American women's literature in general and African American women's literature in particular. Published in the North, proved that until slavery was overthrown, only expatriate southern women writers, such as Jacobs and her contemporary, Angelina Grimke Weld, who left South Carolina to speak out against slavery in the South, could write freely about social problems in the South.

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