Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA English




Mary Balkun, Ph.D

Committee Member

John Wargacki, Ph.D


Food, Consumption, Eating, Domesticity, Harriet Jacobs, True Womanhood


This essay analyzes the relationship between Harriet Jacobs’ representations of womanhood in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and the domestic ideal which promoted a woman’s role as nurturer and nourisher. The main female characters in the text, particularly Mrs. Flint, Aunt Martha, and Linda Brent, highlight the distorted nature of womanhood in the context of slavery and point to the subversion and perversion of the nineteenth-century ideals associated with True Womanhood. Each element of the ideal—piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity—is, at first glance, seemingly upheld by these women, but a closer analysis of their actions, circumstances, and especially their interactions with food, reveal the inherent problems in their attempts to embody True Womanhood. Moreover, the acts of feeding and eating, and the instances in which these acts of consumption are distorted in the narrative, play a major role in the overall perversion of both the True Womanhood paradigm and the Cult of Domesticity, and render the concepts themselves paradoxical.