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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl In her essay, “Loopholes of Resistance,” Michelle Burnham argues that “Aunt Marthy’s garret does not offer a retreat from the oppressive conditions of slavery – as, one might argue, the communal life in Aunt Marthy’s house does – so much as it enacts a repetition of them…[Thus] Harriet Jacobs escapes reigning discourses in structures only in the very process of affirming them” (289). In order to support this, one must first agree that Aunt Marthy’s house provides a retreat from slavery. I do not. Burnham seems to view the life inside Aunt Marthy’s house as one outside of and apart from slavery where family structure can exist, the mind can find some rest, comfort can be given, and a sense of peace and humanity can be achieved. In contrast, Burnham views the garret as a physical embodiment of the horrors of slavery, a place where family can only dream about being together, the mind is subjected to psychological warfare, comfort is non-existent, and only the fear and apprehension of inhumanity can be found. It is true that Aunt Marthy’s house paints and entirely different, much less severe, picture of slavery than that of the garret, but still, it is a picture of slavery differing only in that it temporarily masks the harsh realities of slavery whereas the garret openly portrays them. The garret’s close proximity to the house is symbolic of the ever-lurking presence of slavery and its power to break down and destroy families and lives until there is nothing left. Throughout her novel, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs presents these and several other structures that suggest a possible retreat from slavery, may appear from the outside to provide such a retreat, but ideally never can. Among these structures are religion, literacy, family, self, and freedom.Because it offers them the possibility of...

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