Relationships as resistance to institutional slavery
I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away. My father was a carpenter, and considered so intelligent and skillful in his trade that, when buildings out of the common way were to be erected, he was sent for from long distances to be head workman. On condition of paying his mistress two hundred dollars a year and supporting himself, he was allowed to work at his trade and manage his own affairs. His strongest wish was to purchase his children; but, though he several times offered his hard earnings for that purpose, he never succeeded.
In Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl,” Jacobs illustrates the use of relationships as a form of resistance to institutional slavery. In this passage, Jacobs illustrates the pride in her father that was part of this “selfhood in relation.” She indicates that he was a good father because six years of happy childhood “passed before the circumstances of slavery overtook her. She indicates that he was “intelligent and skillful” to counter any prejudices against the intelligence of African-Americans. Finally, she indicates that his life’s purpose was thwarted by slaveholders and by the institution of slavery, in general, which she felt corrupted slaveholders and denied slaves the right to a pious, principled life.
Jacobs’ pride in her father is echoed in her pride in her mother, aunt, grandmother, children, and benevolent friends. Throughout the narrative, Jacobs’ resistance to slavery and the labels put upon her is enabled by her relationships, eventually leading to various forms of freedom, including legal freedom.