Harriet Jacobs in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl uses clear detail and straightforward language, except when talking about her sexual history, to fully describe what it is like to be a slave. Jacobs says that Northerners only think of slavery as perpetual bondage; they don’t know the depth of degradation there is to that word. She believes that no one could truly understand how slavery really is unless they have gone through it. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl do not only tell about the physical pains and hard labor that she went through. It mostly concentrates on the emotional viewpoints on it and what it did to shape who she is. When writing her story, Jacobs had a clear motive. Her motive was one of a political taking. She writes through her experiences and sufferings to make it clear to people, mainly the Northerners, and more specifically white women in the North, how slavery really is. She does not want sympathy, however, she does want “to arouse the women in the North to a realizing sense of the condition of two millions of women of the South, still in bondage” (460). Jacobs wants people to take action in antislavery efforts. Jacobs in telling her story uses many techniques to make it effective. Some of the techniques that she uses are dealing with the use of her language, her selections of incidents and details, and her method of addressing an audience.
Harriet Jacobs tells her story by breaking it down into sections according to different important aspects of her life. In doing this, each section is described vividly to give the reader a full effect and greater understanding of how it was to be treated as property. Like was said before Jacobs does not want sympathy. Jacobs would have
rather not told her story, but she believes it is important to in order to try to help people get involved in antislavery efforts. Her story is mainly for political reasons. She brings up many important issues concerning slavery, even forbidden topics that some people, mainly white people, would rather not bring up. For instance, the topic of sexual abuse of slave women is a topic that was not usually publicly discussed. Jacobs is troubled and ashamed of her sexual history, however, she talks about it in a way that politicizes it. She presents it as a public political concern; this was not usual in conventional nineteenth century polite discourse. She wants to cover all ground and issues concerning slavery.
Jacobs tries to speak out to the women in the North by talking about motherhood and sexual behavior, things they can relate to. She talks about her children and the unfortunate death of one of them. Losing a child is one of the most horrible things that could happen to a mother. Jacobs talks about this painful occurrence to strike the hearts and mothering nature of white women. Why does she want to reach to the hearts of these women? Maybe it is because Jacobs says that no one could really understand the seriousness of slavery unless they have gone through it. So, in order to have people understand her she had to find people that could relate to her and that she could relate to so that her point could be better understood. So, she talks out to women because what happened to her with her child could possibly happen to them, and it strikes a special place in a mother’s heart. Jacobs wanted the white women in the North to feel how horrible it must be for a mother to lose her child. She couldn’t try to relate to the men because they don’t go through the same experiences as women do.