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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Cult of Domesticity
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Cult of Domesticity
Text 1. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Text 2. Caroline Gilman
Text 3. Catharine E. Beecher
Text 4. Harriet Jacobs
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 5. Fanny Fern
Text 6. Godey's Lady's Book
Text 7. Rev. Theodore Parker
Text 8. Elizabeth Cady Stanton


RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
4.  Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861, Ch. 5-7, 10-11, 14-17

Born a slave in 1813 in North Carolina, Harriet Jacobs fled from her owner at age 22 to go into hiding at her grandmother's house in Edenton. After seven years she escaped to the North, where she remained active in freedmen's organizations until her death in 1897. In these chapters, we follow Jacobs's adolescent years as the tormented slave of Dr. Flint, a man obsessed with dominating her. By bearing children with her white unmarried lover, instead of succumbing to Dr. Flint's pursuits, Jacobs achieves a feeling "akin to freedom," but one that is soured by the shame she feels in violating her moral principles. How Jacobs deals with her choices in these chapters, and how she pleads for the reader to understand her predicament, reveals the double bind in which female slaves were trapped. Does a triumph of the spirit require the sacrifice of integrity? Already widely read by students, this slave narrative can be presented anew in the classroom as a document of gender and power in the antebellum South. 34 1/2 pages.


Discussion questions
  ·  In your estimation, how much does Jacobs's memoir represent the female slave's experience in the South?
  ·  In the battle of wills between Jacobs and Dr. Flint, how does each exercise power over the other?
  ·  On what grounds does Jacobs beg understanding from her readers, "ye happy women . . . whose homes are protected by law"?
  ·  What dooms Jacobs's struggle to preserve her personal integrity? How does she, at the same time, preserve a sense of right and honor?
  ·  How does Jacobs characterize southern planters' wives and the ways they exert influence?
  ·  Compare Mrs. Flint and Cornelia Wilton ("The Planter's Bride") as southern married women.
  ·  How would Elizabeth Cady Stanton judge Jacobs's actions?


Reading highlights
  ·  "Linda Brent" is the name given by Harriet Jacobs to her character in Incidents.
  ·  The lines that Jacobs quotes in Chapter 7—"Where laughter . . . separate hell"—are from Byron's "The Lament of Tasso" (1817).


» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did women of this period define themselves? What stories did they choose to tell?
  •  In what ways did these women exercise—and define—power and influence?
  •  How did the “cult of domesticity” shape the debate over woman’s place in antebellum American society?
  •  In what ways did this debate reflect the prevailing tensions of race, class, region, and religion in American society?




Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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