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University of Arizona


Located in the exact center of Harriet Jacobs' i86r slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Shve Girl, is a chapter entitled "The Loophole of Retreat. " The chapter's title refers to the tiny crawlspace above her grandmother's shed, where Jacobs hides for seven years in an effort to escape her master's persecution and the "peculiar institution" of slavery which authorizes that persecution. This chapter's central location, whether the result of accident or design, would seem to suggest its structural significance within Jacobs' narrative. Yet its central location is by no means obvious, for "The Loophole of Retreat" goes just as easily unnoticed in the middle of forty-one unnumbered chapters as it becomes- after careful enumeration- potentially quite prominent, as the hinge which balances twenty chapters on either side. It is almost as though this chapter is hidden in plain sight, much like the body of Harriet Jacobs herself, who finally discovers the safest hiding place to be the most obvious one imaginable: in her own grandmother's house and in the center of her master Dr. Flint's domain. What Jacobs calls her "loophole of retreat" thus provides a strategic site for concealment even as it masks its own location.



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