As a child Douglass overhears his master, Hugh Auld, tell the naively benevolent Sophia to stop teaching him to read: "A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do," Auld tells her. Both Douglass and Thoreau would recognize and lament this mentality, and walk away confused by the disheartening juxtaposition of material affluence and imaginative poverty.
And then they would use words to write about it. It bears asking, though, what such students might be enslaved to, or by. Dangerous ideas? Not likely. The latest in chic outerwear for the fall season? Too late. Without sounding overly prejudicial, it is difficult to conceive of much that would fundamentally threaten their defensive sense of self-assurance, which is often no such thing. What I want to say here is that I am not always sure what I would like to free my students from — figurative slavery notwithstanding — since so many of them seem blissfully happy in their formidable selves.
So here's what I want, in part: I want my students to become interesting people — that is, more interesting than they already are. Most important, my foremost desire is for them to have the tools to express their passion, whatever that passion may be. One of these tools is vocabulary; the more important other is curiosity. You have an English professor, a text, and a class. You ideally have the formula for some kind of reimagining of the self, the world, the text — even the professor. I would prefer not to. Or, more reasonably, the students choose not to out of fear, having failed in their previous attempts, or because the words themselves are another in a long list of obstacles familial, cultural, and structural.
But imagine, too, how Douglass's autobiography would look had he made the same choice not to pay attention to the signs around him. Think of it: an aesthetic and polemical text — no, a book! The very words that helped to free Douglass are now the mark of another form of enslavement. I try to encourage my students to think of the profundity of a boy, then a man, who was everywhere unrecognized as a boy or man until his escape, and even then he remained of questionable status.
His devotion to learning as a slave in fact allowed him to occupy the space of all those who kept him from such learning. He took power.
Narrative of the life of frederick douglass study guide teacher copy
I want my students to take the same power, even if it seems significantly less is at stake. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe it only appears as if nothing other than a letter grade is on the line. We have to find a way to free them and ourselves. Why keep pretending? Why continue the charade?
Slavery, as Douglass tells us, affects everyone, including the masters whose tyrannical assumption of power corrupts even the beneficent Sophia Auld. I want my students to free me, too. They can only do this by assuming and wielding the power I would most readily concede. Take it, I want to tell them. Kill me. Be the first to know. Get our free daily newsletter. Advice to highly sensitive academics for avoiding burnout opinion. How to write an effective journal article and get it published essay.
New data on how college admissions officers view social media of applicants. Defining Academic Freedom. That is why Jim crow policy had so irresistible an appeal to the poor whites. Here it is not derogatory language which is used to establish social dominance. To the contrary, it is excessively polite language used by blacks to confirm their own social inferiority.
In case of negligence, black people could be severely beaten and even killed for violating racist linguistic norms. By this act of symbolic violence, black people were not only insulted but de-individualized by the dominant culture. A slave narrative is a special American form of autobiography. Basically, it represents a written account by an escaped or freed slave of his or her experiences of slavery.
Since the historical documentation of the atrocities that the slave i. However, the publication of such an early autobiographical account was fraught with difficulties. To further their political goal of supporting abolition, slave narratives often depicted physical violence very excessively. This allegedly exaggerated representation of physical violence made many Southerners doubt the authenticity of such texts, suggesting that slave narratives were in fact written by white abolitionists.
In addition to this point of criticism, the vast majority of slaves were illiterate.
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- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.
Therefore, the publication of a slave narrative was always accompanied by questions of authorship. As a consequence, several strategies had to be employed by the authors of slave narratives to corroborate the authenticity of their texts. Apart from authorial control 56 , another significant strategy to achieve credibility was the co-publication of appended authenticating documents.
Such [skeptics] will try to discredit the shocking tales of slaveholding cruelty which are recorded in this truthful Narrative; but they will labor in vain. DOUGLASS has frankly disclosed the place of his birth, the names of those who claimed ownership in his body and soul, and the names also of those who committed the crimes which he has alleged against them.
His statements, therefore, may easily be disproved, if they are untrue.
Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass
Generally, such appended documents can be considered a typical feature of slave narratives, and an authenticating strategy which implicitly or explicitly justify the explicit representation of physical violence. As already indicated in chapter 3. Referring to the cruel practices of his first master Anthony, Douglass says:.
He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding.
He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heartrending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from his bloody purpose.
The description of the actual act of violence, the atrocious whipping of Aunt Hester, is explicit and disturbing. In this context, Douglass portrays the slaveholder as callous and evil, as a sadistic oppressor both powerful and insuperable, while the victim is portrayed as helpless and completely at the mercy of the demon-like oppressor. After his grandmother has reared young Douglass in the rather protected outskirts of the hostile plantation, he now, for the first time in his life, witnesses an act of severe physical violence acted upon a slave.
This horrible scene in the very first chapter of the Narrative introduces the reader to the violent and hostile environment of the plantation. Douglass himself further illustrates his perception of this violent act:. I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it. Here, we are informed that the young Douglass is absolutely shocked by the atrocity.
Even if he is not physically mistreated in this scene, he is mistreated mentally. Thus, by observing the atrocity, he too becomes a victim of physical violence. His statement suggests that he perceives this inhuman act of violence like an initiation into the evils of slavery. He admits that the triggered shock is too awful to be adequately described with mere words. In contrast to Richard Wright, Douglass presents himself as highly emotional in his autobiography.
Being a highly sensitive character, he is deeply affected by the very experience of violence. The next depiction of physical violence is found in Chapter 2 of the Narrative. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity. Added to his cruelty, he was a profane swearer. The field was the place to witness his cruelty and profanity.
His presence made it both the field of blood and of blasphemy. Again, Douglass depicts the next perpetrator as a vulgar, brutish sadist, who seems to enjoy hurting innocent human beings. In this context, Douglass once again provides a vivid image of blood, thereby once more calling attention to the ferocious and horrible nature of slavery. The immorality of his overseer is expressed through physical violence and swearing.
By means of this trope, he demonstrates what the system of slavery creates: tortured, innocent victims on the one hand, and sadistic, sinful perpetrators on the other hand. Displaying the blasphemy of the perpetrator in connection with his violence, Douglass emphasizes a general abolitionist strategy in his Narrative, namely the depiction of slavery and the violence that accompanies it as an immoral, profane system that is contrary to the ideals of every righteous person in America. The violent and arbitrary character of slavery is also portrayed at the beginning of Chapter 3.
They [i. They were frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped whipping when most deserving it. If a horse did not move fast enough, or hold his head high enough, it was owing to some fault of his keepers [i. In fact, Douglass revolts against these cruel and arbitrary acts of violence against innocent beings in his Narrative. Gore told him [i. The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same result. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his [i.
His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood. A thrill of horror flashed through every soul upon the plantation, excepting Mr. He alone seemed cool and collected. As we see, Douglass depicts physical violence in all its brutality. There is no sign of humanity recognizable in the sadistic perpetrator. In the manner of a prolog, Douglass recounts how this escalation of violence could occur.
Apparently, Mr. Gore is well aware how this shooting will be understood. Thus, he uses the murder as an example to others. In this scene, Douglass provides a very vivid image of the actual instant of violence. Furthermore, the author largely renounces the use of stylistic devices at this point in his Narrative in favor of explicit and straightforward language, which adds clarity and a sense of objectivity to his report.
In this way, he highlights the event as a historical fact that he witnessed. In Chapter 9, Douglass refers to another act of cruelty, committed by his master Thomas Auld 70 once again revealing the immoral character of another slaveholder. I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty.
As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. As Douglass refers to an alleged fact, he first presents his argument in a highly rational way. In the following eye-witness account, the author creates empathy for the victim by emphasizing her innocence and helplessness, pointing out that she was a woman, young, and lame.
Remembering Frederick Douglass’ escape from slavery
His depiction of the actual act of violence is vivid and explicit e. Chapter 10 also contains the negative climaxes of both structural and physical violence. I had been at my new home but one week before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my little finger. Again, the emphasis on blood functions to depict the horror of violence and slavery.
I was seldom free from a sore back. Michaels to complain to his actual Master Thomas Auld. Shortly thereafter, his cruel oppressor Covey uses an opportunity to take revenge and ties him up. Douglass, however, resolves to fight back. Thus, kicks, blows, and hand movements are straightforwardly and vividly described. He caught hold of my legs, and was about tying me. As soon as I found what he was up to, I gave a sudden spring, and as I did so, he holding to my legs, I was brought sprawling on the stable floor. My resistance was so entirely unexpected, that Covey seemed taken all back.
He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy, causing the blood to run where I touched him with the end of my fingers. But just as he was leaning over to get the stick, I seizes him with both hands by his collar, and brought him by a sudden snatch to the ground. By this time, Bill came. Covey called upon him for assistance.
Bill wanted to know what he could do. We were at it for nearly two hours. Here, Douglass drops his elaborate style for the sake of increased directness. His depiction is characterized by straightforward language and told in a rather informal register. Remarkably, his sentences tend to be shorter in this passage. Using this style, Douglass imitates the hectic pace and drama of this scene.
Obviously, it is a battle for life. In addition, the distance between the narrator and the reader is much shorter in this passage. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.
This he applies to emphasize his defiance and determination. It portrays a victim who overtly rebels against the arbitrary violence that is done to him and, more abstractly, against the injustice that he is confronted with as a slave. Even if his personal rebellion involves the use of physical violence against his most cruel oppressor, Douglass nevertheless presents himself as highly rational in this chapter.
Thus, after weighing and artfully reflecting on his own misery, lack of freedom, ignorance, and the lack of prospects in his life, he consciously decides to change his fate and fight his oppressor. Another vivid depiction of his rebellion and physical violence can be found at the end of Chapter 10, where Douglass describes the attack of white racists who work with him in a ship-yard in Baltimore:.
One came in front of me with a half brick. There was one at each side of me, and one behind me. While I was attending to those in front, and on either side, the one behind ran up with the handspike, and struck me a heavy blow upon the head. It stunned me. I fell, and with this they all ran upon me, and fell to beating me with their fists. I let them lay on for a while, gathering strength.
In an instant, I gave a sudden surge, and rose to my hands and knees. Just as I did that, one of their number gave me, with his heavy boot, a powerful kick in the left eye. My eyeball seemed to have burst. When they saw my eye closed, and badly swollen, they left me. As in the depiction of his fight with Covey, Douglass here illustrates physical violence realistically, with narrative directness.
His sentences are short, and formed with a fixed subject-verb syntax. The scene nearly feels within reach of the reader. In his Narrative , Douglass explains the emergence of physical violence as due to a lack of civilization and morality. For Douglass, slavery was an act of barbarism and savagery. According to Douglass, slavery created a culture of violence in the South, a pre-civilized state, an immoral world.
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The atrocities that Douglass portrays in his slave narrative are visible manifestations of the consequences of the doctrine of white supremacy. Thus, physical violence in the system of slavery is interpreted by him as a raw, brutal, archaic and inhuman way of dominating human beings who differ only in terms of their skin color. Born on a plantation, Douglass realizes quite early on what it means to be a slave. At the very beginning of his Narrative , the narrator already states:. I have no accurate knowledge of my age […].
By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. In this opening paragraph, Douglass already emphasizes the analogy between slaves and animals. To illustrate this act of symbolic violence i.
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The quotation above reflects the racist bias in the system of American slavery. To illustrate the forms of symbolic violence exercised on black slaves Douglass frequently uses animal imagery. Our food was coarse corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground.
The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oystershells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. Stylistically, Douglass applies rhetorical devices like anadiplosis 89 to convey his perception of symbolic violence.
By the use of this stylistic device i. This term can be used to refer to forms of officially legitimated violence, as applied by members of the army or the police to exercise legal compulsion. In this political context, another similar distinction can be made between the term violence and power. Sometimes, these terms are also used as synonyms, as the term police power suggests. However, I will try to avoid using violence and power interchangeably, since violence can also be interpreted as the manifestation of power. As illustrated by Canetti, physical violence is a direct and visible act, which can result in death.
Power , however, can be seen as a permanent threat. In other words, power can also be interpreted as the possibility of applying physical violence. See Canetti Theoretically, there is no limitation on the number of offenders and victims during a physical conflict.
In his Narrative , Douglass vividly describes the relationship of dependence between slave and master and, thus, the state of psychological inferiority. In contrast, his black environment seems to take this as natural, even criticizing Richard for his rebellion. Most probably, the dark figure of interpersonal violence committed against blacks is significantly higher. This form of violence is not applied by single offenders but embedded in social structures of society.
In fact, young Richard Wright was heavily affected by structural violence. Reinbeck: Rowohlt. See Sen, A. In: The Economic Journal. In fact, they constituted two divergent legal systems for white people and for black people. See, for example, Douglass 36, or Wright Nash See Douglass Apart from revealing the immorality of his violent perpetrators, Douglass ridicules his oppressors, thus presenting them as highly pathetic creatures.
Covey gave us enough to eat, but scarce the time to eat it. Antithesis functions to emphasize a contrast of two different notions. The Representation of Violence. Add to cart.