History/GWS 249 Reading Guide

African American Women:  From Slavery to Freedom

  • Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (1861; reprinted with an introduction by Jean Fagan Yellin, 2000; enlarged edition, 2009).


  • How might our reading of and reaction to Jacobs’s text today differ from that of the audience to which she was writing in 1861?  Where might the reactions be similar?
  • How is Jacobs’s text similar to other texts that we have read?  How does it differ?  Why?
  • What did she hope to accomplish in writing this account?  Toward that end, how did she appeal to her audience (what strategies did she use to accomplish her complex goals)?
  • What kinds of connections did she draw between the incidents in her life, and the lives of other slaves in the south?  Why?
  • To what extent or in what situations were issues of race, condition/class, and gender either explicit or implicit in the way that she shaped her account of her experiences?
  • What analytical or theoretical frameworks did she use to explain the experiences and situations that she described?