Term Paper: River Runs

Pages: 4 (1454 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Animals  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Because Jacobs emphasizes that degredation is the worst aspect of slavery by printing this on the cover of her narrative, the river offers the only means to escape this psychological torture. The river is also a means to escape physical torture, as the woman in Chapter XXIII was ordered to be "stripped and whipped," (184). Therefore, the woman escaped both physical and mental degredation and torture by ending her life in the river. The river, which is impartial and passionless, provides this safe means to passage, even if it means the ending of a life. Jacobs implies that suicide through drowning in the river is often preferable -- and more honorable -- than continued bondage. The river passes no judgment on the souls of those who make this decision, just as Jacobs desists to pass judgment on the woman. Rather, the action is sometimes necessary for the slave to attain freedom.

The river can offer a more life-affirming freedom, however. Linda is able to escape in a boat, along the waterways of the East. At first, the narrator describes her fears because of what happened to James, the fugitive slave who was caught. His death was not as honorable as that of the woman described in chapter XXIII because he essentially died in captivity. The impartial river did not take his life, his captors did. However, Linda and the other slaves who escape with her are willing to risk death. Escape on the river is akin to both death and salvation for two reasons. First, the river can provide a means to commit suicide. Thus the river is a means of total liberation from the bonds of the physical world, whether those bonds are physical or mental. Second, the river offers a feasible means to escape the physical conditions of slavery. However, in order to take advantage of the transportation route the river offers, the slave risks getting caught and suffering the same death that James did. In this sense, the river does offer potential salvation from slavery, but with the real risk of being captured and killed. The river is a place of death and of salvation throughout the text.

Jacobs is optimistic, however, calling the river a "safe method for escape," (237). She "was to escape in a vessel," (229). Her initial escape was not her first journey toward freedom via bodies of water, however. Once she reaches the Free States, she runs into problems with her papers and has to leave Philadelphia, again via the waterways. Therefore, the river embodies a state of constant flux and change. Just as the water rushing through the riverbed is constantly changing, so too, does Linda's life. The river carries the former slave to freedom and offers a change of physical and mental state; the river is a place of transformation. The river also forms a very real physical barrier between Linda and her potential captors, just as it forms a barrier between north and south. The river is the boundary between slavery and freedom, between ex-slaves and ex-masters, "our enemies," (239). Linda finds the kindness of the captains to be extremely liberating and thus the river also offers a refreshing change in the view of humanity.

The river is a major motif in Harriet Jacobs' autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The narrator finds kindness, freshness, and change on the waterways, as she travels from place to place in search of peace and freedom. The river also serves as a geographic and political barrier between her and her captors; even when she is in danger of being caught, Linda can once again embark on a river boat for safer havens. The river is a physical means of escape in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, but it is also a means of symbolic or spiritual escape. There are several incidents of death associated with the river in the text. The first is Benjamin's attempted suicide-escape on the river; the second is the woman who killed herself by throwing herself into the river in order to escape the degredation and torture of her master; and a third is James, the fugitive who initially escaped via the river but ended up getting captured and killed. Throughout Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the river is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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River Runs.  (2003, March 16).  Retrieved June 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/river-runs/5123142

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"River Runs."  Essaytown.com.  March 16, 2003.  Accessed June 20, 2019.