Jacob’s reference to her relatives as God-breathing machines is a linguistic device that is used to amplify a pragmatic view of the oppressive nature of slavery within the set period. The irony in the statement infuses a dramatic element in the phrase invoking an emotional aspect in the excerpt while maintaining a level an official tone. Machines are artificial implements employed by humanity for working purposes as they reduce the bulk of work. Additionally, machines are solely run by humans due to their dependency and are therefore unable to start or stop themselves. By using this phrase to describe her relatives, Jacob’s is simply offering a succinct picture of the nature of slavery during her period. Slaves bore a high level of congruence to the machines for the labor they executed, as well as the lack of individual will, based on the commands accorded by their masters (Jacobs, & Brent, 2008). Servitude in the excerpt is thereby equated to the mechanistic (inflexible) nature of the machine.
The inclusion of the term ‘God-breathing’ however changes the nature of the term ‘machine’ by infusing a human touch into the situation. Unlike humans, machines do not rely on breathing for survival. Its usage is therefore for the purposes of ensuring that the reader acquires a precise comprehension as the humanity of the machines mentioned. The property mentioned cotton and horses, is materialistic unlike humans that cannot be computed in terms of financial wealth (Sanchez-Eppler, 1993). This statement therefore elevates Jacob’s relatives over the masters’ possessions. The masters had likened the workers to economic machines, which by nature is very degrading. Therefore, the statement also elevates the relatives over their masters due to the fact that, equating humans to machines and material property as the masters had is indicative of intellectual and moral deficiency within their lives.
Jacobs, H., & Brent, L. (2008). Incidents in the life of a slave girl. San Jose, CA: Arc Manor LLC.
Sanchez-Eppler, K. (1993). Touching liberty: abolition, feminism, and the politics of the body. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.