Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Classic That Changed Me

What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?

Back in 2001, I took a basic history course at Baylor. While I remember very little of the course as a whole, what stands out vividly for me is a life-changing book. I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, and suddenly everything I thought I knew about slavery was different. 

To learn about slavery in the United States is to possibly become desensitized to it over time. Certainly, we all know it was horrible and morally corrupt. It's a time in our history for which we try to atone. But it wasn't until I read this book that I felt in my heart and my mind, how much those men and women suffered. I knew it intellectually, but to know it and recognize it is not the same as feeling it. 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was published in 1861 by Harriet Jacobs, using the pen name "Linda Brent." The book is an account of Jacobs's life as a slave, and the decisions and choices she made to gain freedom for herself and her children. It addresses the struggles and sexual abuse that young women slaves faced on the plantations including rape, the pressure to have sex at an early age, the selling of their children, and the treatment of female slaves by their mistresses.Jacobs began composing Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl while living and working at Idlewild, the Hudson River home of writer and publisher Nathaniel Parker Willis. Portions of the book were published in serial form in the New-York Tribune. (Summary adapted from Wikipedia.) 
The most touching part of this book, for me, was in learning of Brent's sacrifices to save her children from slavery. Through a somewhat elaborate plan, she hides in an attic crawl space no bigger than a coffin for seven years in hopes that her children will be sold elsewhere, and through various channels, sent to the North where they can be free. 

Seven years. In an attic the size of a coffin. Just let that sink in. 

Amazing book, and I'm so glad I read it. It's one I will never forget, and now I have the pleasure of teaching it to my own literature students. 

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