Monthly Archives: February 2015

Frederick Douglass’ Road Map to Freedom

In “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” chapters X through XI, Douglass continues to expose the recurring theme of enslavement through various cruelties and his oppressed state as a slave eagerly yearning freedom.

During the previous chapters of the narrative Douglass describes the experiences of other slaves and gives the reader glimpses of slavery through what he has witnessed. As the narrative progresses, the theme of freedom becomes more cognizant. Douglass for the first time becomes victim of the cruelty brought forth by slavery. The inhumane cruelty and misfortunes of his master caused an oppressed state and transformed him to become a slave. He states “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, and the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”(264). Such behaviors had endangered his inspiration of education, which was one of the greatest aspects to his escape from slavery and pathway to his freedom.

The cruel treatments of slavery however, were the nostalgic drives that eventually caused Douglass to yearn freedom. “This battle with Mr.Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived with me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-conscience, and inspired me again with a determination to be free” (268). After standing up for himself and undergoing the inhumane experiences with Mr. Covey Douglass’ self-knowledge arose again.

Towards the end of the narrative self- knowledge was the main device that allowed Douglass to be conscious of the burdened caused by slavery. Eventually his freedom was obtained physically but his mental state of awareness was the road map to his freedom. Once Douglass becomes free interestingly enough in his narrative he chooses not to disclose entirely how he escapes slavery.  This tactic was so he would still make it possible for other slaves to become free as well with less chances of getting caught.

Frederick Douglass’ Turning Point

It is clear that Frederick Douglass was not happy with his life as a slave, meticulously recalling every memory that he had gathered throughout his horrible life. If not for two moments during his time on Covey’s plantation, it is conceivable that this life would be the one he dies with. I believe that one turning point of his life comes after he explains he was made a “brute” (p264) under Mr Covey. After working countless hours on the fields and enduring the harsh weather conditions, and no sympathy from Mr Covey, Douglass conceives that he was broken. This is likely what happened to the majority of slaves, because they were seen nothing more than a workhorse, with nothing else to live for, and no desire to escape the life they live. They would never be able to stray away from the demanding work that they were accustomed to doing. Douglass tells a story of how the house had a view of the Chesapeake Bay (p 264) and how the view of the ships going up and down the waters, known to him as “freedom’s swift-winged angels” (p 265) allowed him to believe that he would not die a slave, and that there would be more to his life.

Shortly after, is the second turning point in his life, in August 1833. While working on a particularly hot day, he collapses from what seems to be heat exhaustion, and upon being found by his Master, instead of being helped, he is of course beaten further for not fulfilling the task at hand. This causes him decide to run back to his old Master and tell him of the tales of Covey in hopes that he would give him protection. After his old Master St Micheal refused, he was sent back to Covey, where not long after, he was going to be beaten for his actions. Then, the battle that was “the turning-point of (his) slave career” (p 268) happened when he decided to fight back.

This was something that was not common at all, especially for a mild mannered slave like Douglass, but he was not going to be violently abused any longer. He knew that he brought his master too much value to be killed, so he struck fear into his heart instead, and thus providing his own protection and keeping himself from being abused, however still carrying on with the work that needed to be done, in order to live a sufficient, although temporary life. These moments in his life allowed him to never give up hope in becoming a free man, after shortly being rendered as a “brute” with no free will. Then the mind to fight back allowed him to know that he was not powerless, as he was made to be under the tutelage of his Masters.

Sample Comparative Thesis

Below is a sample comparative thesis about Keats and de Castro, using one of the templates we looked at in class.

Although Keats and de Castro both explore the purpose of poetry, asking whether it will endure and whether it will bring them fame, they significantly differ in that Keats asserts the importance of the individual author, while de Castro de-emphasizes the poet’s individuality and situates her poems as part of a broader landscape of writing.

What do you think?

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass

In the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”, Frederick Douglass uses violent imagery to show the horrors and evils of slavery as well as the corruption within a society where slavery is legal.

The first time the violent imagery was used is in chapter I where Frederick Douglass narrates the violent punishment of Aunt Hester. Frederick Douglas narrated the scene as, “Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes… after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor” (239).  He continues with saying how he “was so terrified and horror stricken at the sight” (239) showing the intensity of the violence that was happening.

The second time he uses the violent imagery to show the horrors and evils of slavery is when he talked about Mr. Severe. He describe the imagery as, “I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release. He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity” (241).  Not only is Frederick Douglass describing the violent scene with his narration, he also displayed the sadistic nature of the overseer through his words. Even with crying children begging him to stop, the overseer continues and even taking pleasure in dealing out the whipping.

The most prominent example of Frederick’s use of violent imagery to project the corruption of the society at the time was where he talked about the overseer, Mr. Gore. Frederick Douglass described the scene as, “Mr. Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him… Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one… raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at this standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sigh, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood”(246).  The  imagery of “blood and brains” marking the waters already shows how horrible the slaves were treated at the time. Frederick Douglass continues showing the corruption of the society by saying, “his horrid crime was not even submitted to judicial investigation. It was committed in the presence of slaves, and they of course would neither institute a suit, nor testify against him; and thus the guilty perpetrator of one of the bloodiest and most foul murders goes unwhipped of justice”(246).  This shows the corruption of the society when a murderer continues his job unpunished.

Slaves were considered objects rather than people. Through Frederick Douglass violent imagery,  he showed the horrors of slavery as well as the corrupted system of slavery.


Believing His Truth-Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass is quite an informative piece. It does a fantastic job of showing the reader of the true cruelty of slavery. Many themes are presented in this piece but perhaps the main theme would be education. Perhaps the main question would be wether Frederick Douglass views education as a blessing or a curse. He presses upon this issue quite frequently in the narrative. He presents education in both a positive and negative light. Ultimately I believe that he views education as a wonderful that can get you places in life, but it can be viewed as a curse because of all the things one must do in order to obtain an education. It was easier for a woman to obtain an education to read write and recite the ABC’s but for a black man it was almost impossible to find someone to teach you these things because blacks were not considered “real people” back then.

Although one could say that he viewed it as a curse because with his newfound knowledge he learned things that he wished he did not. The slaves were viewed as property. If their property became too smart the slave owners may seek revenge/punish them. Being educated was a freedom that the slaves were not allowed to enjoy. However, he is now smarter and has a quality that other slaves do not. He can feel more like a person now with his newfound knowledge.

I think another important question to touch upon is why might Frederick Douglass use female characters to demonstrate the brutality and inhumane treatment of slaves in the south. I think that he used the female characters because women were not supposed to be abused and were supposed to be taken care of by men no matter what. He showed the drastic difference between how white women and black women were treated. I believe that he is trying to evoke a sense of anger or even a sense of disgust/horror in the reader because even today hitting a woman is viewed as wrong.

Douglass uses women to accentuate the brutality and injustices of slavery because the experience of a female slave compared to that of a male slave was, in many cases and on many levels, different. The double-consciousness that a slave dealt with, being aware of themselves both as humans and property, is invariable. However, female slaves were subjected to sexual abuse, rape, the dispersal of her children and family, along with other harsh experiences.

Overall, I’m very impressed with Douglass’ narrative and how honest and eye opening it was. The tone in which he writes is absolutely astonishing. He’s very matter of fact and very candid and I think he wrote it that way to make his truth believable for others. From his account of the brutality he witnessed and from his struggles to get an education I’m sure many that read his book at that time believed his truth.

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” by Frederick Douglass

In “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” by Frederick Douglass, Douglass shows that white slave holders controlled slavery by keeping their slaves ignorant.

First of all, salves did not know about their basic facts. For example, the slaves did not have any ideas about their day of birth. Douglass reminded that “I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday” (236). Compare to white children who knew their birthday, Douglass was unhappy and confuse that he did not know his birthday. It was a pity that he did not allow to make any inquiries. In addition, Douglass did not know who father was although he knew his mother named Harriet Bailey. Douglass expressed that “Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extend, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger” (237).  It shows that Douglass did not develop familial feelings toward his mother because his master separated him from his mother after his birth. In addition, the objectives “soothing” and “tender” to restate that he only knew his mother had been present. All of these show that the white slave holders did not want their slaves to have any ideas about their personal identity.

On the other hand, slave holders prevented slave from learning how to read and write. Douglass points out that Mrs. Auld taught him in learning alphabet when he lived with Mr. and Mrs. Auld. However, Mr. Auld “at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me future” when he realized that his wife taught slave to read (250). The phrase, “at once” shows that Mr. Auld pressed that his wife stop to teaching him. On the other hand, it also shows that Mr. Auld extremely worried that Douglass would be out of his control even though he only could read some alphabets. He also explained that “If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable” (250). First of all, Mr. Auld used “nigger” to describe Douglass which shows that Douglass did not be treated as a men. From the Mr. Auld’ statement, it also shows that knowledge would be a path for slaves to freedom. However, Mr. Auld knew that once slaves got educated, he would not easily control slavers. As a result, he prohibited his wife to teach slave to reading.

All of these, Douglass explains that slave holders kept slaves ignorance of personal information in order that slaves thought they were valueless in the world. Slave holders prohibited that slaves had any chances to have education. Once slaves had no ideas about their personal information and without educated, the slave holders were more easily to control slaves.

“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

John Keats, uses a poem in which he refers to bird and all it represents to ask the question of contradicting ideals. Is it better to live in reality, or to depart from it and escape to a dream? Is it better to live a short life and enjoy the quick and fleeting moments of happiness and passion or live forever and miss out on the joys and sorrows of a life?

From the very first four lines of the poem, Keats describes the departure from reality in feeling like he is being under the influence of a substances like opium and hemlock (both highly toxic and poisonous). Then in the second stanza he longs for wine that would help him fade away into a state of further illusion and fantasy when he says, “O for a draught of vintage! […] With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, And purple stained mouth; That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim;” (Lines 11-20). He wishes to leave to a place where he wouldn’t be bothered with problems and worries of life, and  in the third stanza he describes reality as a gloomy and dreary place, “Where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyes despairs: Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow” (Lines 27-30). The question of beauty is a repeating theme in Keats’ poetry and he struggles with the question of its meaning. Is true beauty immortal, or the fact that it’s fleeting gives it its essence. The passing of time seems to get us all, yet this nightingale, an embodiment of nature and art can defy the cruelty of time.

The bird itself becomes a symbol of immortality. Keats speaks to the nightingale in the seventh stanza saying that he represents an immunity to the passage of time, “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown” (Lines 61-64). Keats grapples with the cruelty of time and his inability to conquer it, and brings up the conflict of death and how final it would be. Keats knew he was going to die soon due to a family history of illness and the idea of death excites and terrifies him at the same time. He sees the appeal of it and where in the sixth stanza he writes, “…for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seem it rich to die” (Lines 51-55). Yet there is a realization of the bittersweet taste of death and his reluctance to leave just yet because he wouldn’t be able to hear the beautiful melody of the bird, “Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain- To thy high requiem become a sod” (Lines 59-60).  The passing of time can also be observed in the time shifts of the poem, where he starts in the daytime and then progresses through the nighttime finally returning to the initial question of his departure from reality in the final stanza asking, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: – do I wake or sleep?”(Lines 79-80) leaving the readers to contemplate and decide on their own.

“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” John Keats defines the truth behind beauty in association with the concept of life. In a general perspective, life is immortal. However, on a more personal level, life is abruptly hindered in the progression of time. Time is inevitable and human beings are confined in the authority of time. Keats depicts a visual narration of time in “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The Grecian Urn establishes a world free of change. In this world, time cannot hinder the beauty of a single moment. The urn is an escape from the real world and pertains to the beauty of a single moment captured in time. Being the “foster-child of slow time” (line 2), the urn provides the notion that human beings are not bounded by the suppression of time.

“Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, though winning near the goal-yet, do not grieve; she cannot fade, though hast not thy bliss, for ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (line 17-20). In the second stanza, Keats describes a paradox. The speaker is bounded by love, but he cannot fully grasp his emotions in relation to his lover. Although the speaker is unable to approach his lover, he knows that her beauty will never fade away. She will always be the object of his desire and the love between the two individuals will remain in eternal bliss.

Furthermore, death is prolonged. “Who are these coming to the sacrifice?…Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?” (line 31-37). The people are in route to the sacrifice of a heifer dressed in silken flanks and garlands. However, the people are merely in an ascent towards the sacrifice. They do not have the ability to experience death personally because the sacrifice is not depicted on the Grecian Urn in its entirety.

John Keats establishes the Grecian Urn as an escape from real life. The urn simultaneously depicts the innocence of love and the liberation from death. However, time in relation with life, is inevitable. The real world is bounded by time. “When old age shall this generation waste, thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe” (line 46-47). We as humans are suppressed by the changes in life. We face adversities on a consistent basis and do not have control of our own lives. As we fade with time, the Grecian Urn will remain present as a “Sylvian historian, who canst thus express a flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme” (line 3-4). The images depicted on the urn will forever remain in eternal bliss. The individual will remain with his lover and the sacrifice of the heifer will forever be at halt. Time defines human life and that is the true beauty.

When I Have Fear That I May Cease To Be by John Keats

Death, as a topic, frequently arouses speculation and anxiety. We fear death for piles of reasons: we dread not to accomplish what we long for in our life, we don’t know what to expect from death, we fear devils in hell and punishments from God… In “When I Have Fear That I May Cease To Be”, John Keats describes his fear if the coda of his life arrives. He fears that fountaining thoughts in his brain could never be expressed, piled books on the shelf would be forgotten in the dust, and his trace after the moon and clouds ceases abruptly (line1-8). John Keats contemplates all that he wants in his life: success, fame and love. He doesn’t just want simple success, normal fame and plain love. Instead, like most of us, he craves for them in an extraordinary, desperate, earth-shaking way. Meantime, he confesses his desperations in front death, as he writes, “then on the shore of the wide world I stand alone, and think, will Love and Fame to nothingness do sink”(line12-14). With unachieved aspirations, we fear death thinking we’ll get nowhere near them any longer. Imagining dying with regret, we’d regard our short life as an imperfect one, which nobody likes.

Keats let his emotions flow out directly from his words without endless brushstrokes on romantic sceneries or landscapes, compared to the poems we read from William Wordsworth and Taylor Coleridge. He puts how his minds and thoughts would be if he dies in the first part, while he places the moon and clouds in the following part. It is different from the Wordsworth’s more introverted way of expressing by depicting natural views over and over to gradually introduce his feelings and emotions. Keats diversifies his way of expression as well. For example, he writes, “hold like rich garners the full rippen’d grain”(line 4) to analogize his high piled books. Meanwhile, he draws an analogy that writing with pen is to “glean’d teeming brain”(line 2). The analogies make these lines unified and smooth.

The poem doesn’t finish in a happy or inspiring tone. But it is why tragedy can better provokes our thoughts because we keep pondering over why something has to be imperfect.