Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Aunt Martha

Aunt Martha is one of the narrative’s most complex characters, embodying
Jacobs’s ambivalence about motherhood and maternal love. She is a second mother
to Linda, a positive force in her life, and a paragon of honesty and decency.
She is loving and family-oriented, representing an ideal of domestic life and
maternal love. She works tirelessly to buy her children’s and grandchildren’s
freedom. Her unwavering piety leads her to attribute her enslavement to God’s
will and to patiently bear the loss of her children to slave traders. Beneath
her gentle veneer, Aunt Martha is a powerful figure with considerable standing
in her community. She is the only black woman in the narrative with her own
home. On more than one occasion, she rebukes slave holders who harm her
relatives, even telling Dr. Flint to his face that he is going to hell for his
treatment of Linda.
Although she is generally a positive character, there is a dark side to
Aunt Martha’s domesticity. She prizes home and family first and foremost, loving
her children and grandchildren so possessively that she cannot bear the thought
of being separated from them. She is essential to Linda’s survival, but at times
her maternal power threatens to suffocate her loved ones. She would rather see
them in slavery than have them run away from her to freedom. She mourns the
successful escape of her son, Benjamin, who has been dreadfully abused by his
master. She repeatedly urges Linda not to run away. When Linda hides in Aunt
Martha’s attic crawl space, it is as if she has been locked away in a prison of
Martha’s creation. In the end, Aunt Martha manages to let Linda go, but
only when it is clear that to stay would spell total
disaster.