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Trying to Tell “the Two-fold Unspeakable” in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

KIm, Lee Eun 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper aims at investigating a slave girl struggling to give a true-to-life picture of the slavery against the silence forced upon her. In addition to the cruelties and physical tortures, the slaves were doubly bound because they were unable to confide in each other and form their own bond among themselves. Trying to appeal mainly to the Northern white female readers, Harriet Jacobs focuses on the sexual abuses on the slave women but creates a much different character compared with the conventional slave girl as a passive victim. Jacobs portrays Linda Brent who talks back and speaks up against her master, Dr. Flint. Furthermore, in order to escape seduction by her master, Brent enters into a sexual liaison with another white man, which would have made the contemporary genteel readers uncomfortable. In describing this affair Jacobs cannot depict the ‘unspeakable’ because she is incapable of finding appropriate expressions to convey her inner psychological turmoils which are often beyond the readers’ experience and imagination. Even though Jacobs tries her best to narrate the wrongs, evils and depravities of the slavery as much as possible, slavery is still beyond her description due to its indescribable abominations. Her book is valuable not merely because she records an accurate and vivid reality of the slavery, but because she awakens the readers to the extreme difficulties of grasping the truth of the slavery.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.