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Declarations in Dialogue NARRATIVE of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself


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Title: Declarations in Dialogue NARRATIVE of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself

Declarations in Dialogue NARRATIVE of the life
of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written
by Himself
  • Autobiography a crafted story
  • Slave narrative a familiar genre
  • Both genres located between history and
  • Rhetorical purposes for self-reflection, to
    create a public picture of the self and the life,
    to advance a cause through the narrative of a
    life experience

American autobiography
  • Puritans as Gods elect preoccupation with the
    self -- diaries, journals, meditations
  • Jonathan Edwards, Personal Narrative (c. 1740)
  • Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1771-88)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841)
    Man is his own star
  • Enlightenment focus on the individual
    responsibility for actions, autonomy, striving,
  • America an exceptional land a new and empty
    land opportunities for creativity the
    American, this new man (Crèvecoeur)

Slave narratives
  • Documentary contributions requiring
  • Very popular form over 100 book-length slave
  • Relation between speeches and print texts
    narratives as structured formal revisions of
    spoken works organized and promoted by
    anti-slavery organizations (Davis and Gates xvi)
  • It was the face of the race that the slave
    narrators painted, so as to give it a voice. It
    is this notion of the presence of voice and
    self-creation through representation, transferred
    to writing through the metaphor of voice, which
    motivated the ex-slaves to produce hundreds of
    testimonies of their enslavement . . . (Davis
    and Gates xxxi).
  • Davis, Charles T., and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,
    eds. The Slaves Narrative. New York Oxford
    UP, 1985.

Some slave narratives 1760-1845
  • 1789, Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narratives
    of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus
    Vassa, the African, written by Himself. London.
  • 1831, Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, a
    West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, With a
    Supplement by the Editor, to Which is Added the
    Narrative of Asa-Asa, A Captured African.
  • 1833, Richard Allen. The Life, Experience, and
    Gospel Labors of the Right Reverend Richard
    Allen. Philadelphia.
  • 1836, Jarena Lee, The Life and Religious
    Experiences of Jarena Lee, A Coloured Lady,
    Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the
    Gospel. Revised and Corrected from the Original
    Manuscript, Written by Herself. Philadelphia.
  • 1840, Juan Francisco Manzano, Poems by a Slave in
    the Island of Cuba, recently liberated,
    translated from the Spanish, by R. R. Madden, M.
    D., with the History of the Early Life of the
    Negro Poet, written by Himself . . . London.

Abolitionist movementS
  • Extensive history in England, France, and
  • 1775, Society for the Relief of Free Negroes
    Unlawfully Held in Bondage, Philadelphia
  • 1775, Thomas Paine, African Slavery in America
  • Gradual elimination of slavery in the North
    Northwest Ordinance, 1787
  • Slave trade outlawed by 1807/08, but illegal
    slave trade continued (e.g., Amistad)
  • 1833, American Anti-Slavery Society, founded by
    William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, and Robert
  • The Liberator, newspaper, 1831-1865
  • Tenets of Garrisons abolitionism
  • Immediate emancipation
  • Disaffiliation with the U.S. government the
    Constitution as a pro-slavery document
  • Pacifism

From the first issue of The Liberator, January 1,
  • To the Public (page 1)
  • Assenting to theself-evident truth maintained
    in the American Declaration of Independence,
    that all men are created equal, and endowed by
    their Creator with certain inalienable
    rights--among which are life, liberty and the
    pursuit of happiness, I shall strenuously
    contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our
    slave population.
  • "I am aware, that many object to the severity
    of my language but is there not cause for
    severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as
    uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do
    not wish to think, or speak, or write, with
    moderation. . . . I am in earnest -- I will not
    equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not
    retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.
  • All issues available online through UCI Library
    19th Century U.S. Newspapers

The newspaper speaks! . . . I come, a stranger
in this busy sphere, . . . My name is
liberator! I propose to hurl my shafts at
freedoms deadliest foes . . . to redeem the
Douglass, abolitionist Orator
  • 1838, New Bedford, Mass -- subscription to The
    Liberator my soul was set on fire sympathy
    for my brethren in bonds I got a pretty
    correct idea of the principles, measures and
    spirit of the anti-slavery reform . . . I took
    right hold of the cause (Narrative 119)
  • First speech, 1841 hired as a lecturer by
    Garrisons organization approximately 200
    speeches between 1839 and 1845
  • Douglass speeches offered few autobiographical
    details (Blassingame xlvii-liii)
  • As a fugitive slave, Douglass . . . appeared as
    both victim and victor, exhibiting the nobility
    and intellect of blacks, and the contradiction
    that was slavery (Blassingame xlvii).
  • John W. Blassingame, ed. The Frederick Douglass
    Papers. Series One Speeches, Debates, and
    Interviews. Vol. 1 1841-46. New Haven Yale
    UP, 1979.

Pressure to tell his story
  • By 1844, Douglasss oratorical skills and
    thoughtful analyses caused many observers to
    doubt him some claimed he had never been inside
    the peculiar institution. (Blassingame)
  • Danger for a fugitive slave to reveal details
    possibility of recapture
  • Douglass responds to pressure by writing the
    Narrative (1845) 9 reprints in three years,
    11,000 copies, translations

from living evidence to political actor
  • Douglass relationship with Garrison tutelage
  • Peabodys 1849 review on the Narrative He is
    one of the living evidences that there is in the
    colored population of the South no natural
    incapacity for the enjoyment of freedom. . . .
    He may be a most useful laborer in the cause of
    human rights (138).
  • Nathaniel P. Rogers review of an 1844 address
    (139-41) The narrative was dullish in manner,
    but after he closes the narrative he let out the
    outraged humanity that was laboring in him, in
    indignant and terrible speech . . . reference to
    Toussaint . . . He was not up as a
    speaker--performing. He was an insurgent slave
    taking hold on the right of speech, and charging
    on his tyrants the bondage of his race (141)

3 rhetorical challenges of slave
  • speaking for himself, speaking for others
    the power of the exceptional life story, the
    hazards of representation
  • beyond spectacle becoming more than living
    evidence, the body on display
  • embedding the argument within the story
  • Rhetors in 19th-century social movements
    construct ethos so as to dramatize the process by
    which experience forces a critical analysis of
    the social order and, in so doing, support
    arguments for change.

Representative Man
The problem of the life and body as evidence
  • It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind,
    that, Mr. Douglass could be . . . a stunning blow
    at the same time inflected on Northern prejudice
    against a colored complexion
  • (Preface by Garrison 32-33).
  • Douglass introduced as chattel, a thing, a
    piece of southern property (Blassingame l).
  • Douglass participates This head, these limbs,
    this body, I have stolen from my master! (1846)

The white envelope Authentication by white
  • Garrisons Preface
  • Listening to Douglass speak in 1841
  • Capable of high attainments as an intellectual
    and moral beingneeding nothing but a
    comparatively small amount of cultivation to make
    him an ornament to society and a blessing to his
    race . . . (32)
  • manliness of character union of head and
    heart (33)
  • The Narrative Ds choice, style entirely his
    own production (34)
  • Wendell Phillips, Letter
  • When lions write history . . . (38)
  • We have known you long and can put the most
    entire confidence in your truth, candor, and
    sincerity a fair specimen of the whole truth
  • the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of
    Independence with the halter about their necks

A dramatic life story, a crafted story
  • I-IV through the gates of hell slave child
    with no family hunger, cold, witness to
    violence subject to brutal economies and
  • V sent to Baltimore through the work of
    Providence I was chosen. F. has a deep
    conviction that he would not always be a slave
  • VI-VII -- literacy instruction, interrupted,
    pursued From that moment, I understood the
    pathway from slavery to freedom (64) Columbian
    Orator on the docks, the idea of escape
  • VIII-IX setbacks assessed as property, back
    to the plantation the mean Master Thomas (76)
  • X descent into hell
  • field work, sent to Covey, the slave-breaker
    the dark night of slavery closed in upon me
    and behold a man transformed into a brute! (81)
  • An appeal to God, apostrophe to the ships O
    that I were free! O, that I were on one of your
    gallant decks (83-84)
  • Fighting Covey a turning point in my career as
    a slave the sense of my own manhood (89)
    a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of
    slavery, to the heaven of freedom (89)
  • XI abortive escape final escape I felt
    like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions

Douglass Narrative autobiographer as master of
his story
  • Blight Above all else, this book . . . is a
    great story told, like most other great stories,
    out of the will to be known and the will to
    write (1).
  • Chapter I family
  • A want of information concerning my own age
    was a source of unhappiness to me even during
    childhood (41)
  • I never saw my mother (42-43)
  • Women being beaten (44-46) F. as spectator I
    wish I could commit to paper the feelings with
    which I beheld Aunt Hesters beating (45).

Narrator more outside than inside slavery?
  • Ch. II - Slave songs I did not, when a slave,
    understand the deep meaning of those rude and
    apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within
    the circle so that I neither saw nor heard as
    those without might see and hear (51).
  • The hearing of those wild notes always depressed
    my spirit . . .
  • As I am writing these lines, an expression of
    feeling has already found its way down my cheek .
    . . My first glimmering conception of the
    dehumanizing character of slavery. the
    moralizing function of sentimental fiction the
    songs deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken
    my sympathies for my brethren in bonds
  • If anyone wishes to be impressed with the
    soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go . . .
    , place himself in the deep pine woods, and there
    let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that
    shall pass through the chambers of his soul . . .
  • 2 perspectives (a) Slavery is not something
    immediately available to experience. It is
    learned, reflected upon, remembered. (b)
    strategy of the former slave/authoritative
    rhetor/author to reflect at a distance

What can the reader (white) reader know about
the life of the slave?
  • the will to be known?
  • Ch. III slaves suppressing the truth a still
    tongue makes a wise head (54)
  • Ch. XI I would keep the merciless slaveholder
    profoundly ignorant of the means of flight
    adopted by the slave. I would leave him to
    imagine himself surrounded by myriads of
    invisible tormentors . . . Let him feel his way
    in the dark let darkness commensurate with his
    crime hover over him . . . Let us render the
    tyrant no aid let us not hold the light by
    which he can trace the footprints of our flying
    brother (107).
  • Withholding feelings
  • It is impossible for me to describe my feelings
    as the time of my contemplated start drew near
  • I have been frequently asked how I felt when I
    found myself in a free State. I have never been
    able to answer the question with any satisfaction
    to myself (111).

The first Villain
  • Ch. IV Austin Gore, the overseer mastering
    the slaves dread through the narrators style
  • He was just the man for such a place, and it was
    just the place for such a man. (55)
  • To be accused was to be convicted, and to be
    convicted was to be punished the one always
    following the other with immutable certainty
  • He was ambitious enough . . . Persevering enough
    . . . Cruel enough . . . Obdurate enough to be
    insensible to the voice of a reproving
    conscience (56)
  • 3 murders crimes against others (a young girl,
    an old man) (57-59)

Literacy the pathway from slavery to freedom
  • Ch. V-VII, to Baltimore with Hugh and Sophie Auld
  • The ties that ordinarily bind children to their
    homes were all suspended in my case (60).
    Looking ahead rather than behind (61)
  • Rapturous arrival a white face beaming with
    the most kindly emotions (61-62)
  • I was chosen from among them all a special
    interposition of divine Providence (62)
  • From angel to demon Hugh Auld, the second
    villain his heart must be harder than stone
  • Regarding Hugh Auld What he most dreaded, that
    most desired. What he most loved, that I most
    hated. . . . (64)
  • Female slaves contending with the pigs for the
    offal thrown into the street (65) as Fred
    rises, women slaves remain in abject

Chapter VII
  • Heard students reading from The Columbian Orator,
    1797, on the docks bought a copy
  • Collection of speeches and writings
  • http//

Coming to consciousness
  • turning poor white boys into teachers (67), but
    also interlocutors I used to talk this matter
    of slavery over with them they created a
    public on the docks
  • Being a slave for life (67) discontent Any
    thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking!
  • abolition Fred, a ready listener what is
    abolition? newspaper article about petitions
  • Escape required writing learning to write in
    the shipyard copybooks (70)

Dialogue between a master and a slave (Blight
  • The slave is represented as having been
    recaptured, . . . and the master opens the
    dialogue with an upbraiding speech, charging the
    slave with ingratitude, and demanding to know
    what he has to say in his own defense.
  • Touched by the slaves answer, the master tells
    him he is permitted to speak for himself. Thus
    invited to the debate, the slave made a spirited
    defense of himself, and thereafter the whole
    argument, for and against slavery, was brought
    out. The master was vanquished at every turn in
    the argument and seeing himself to be thus
    vanquished, he generously and meekly emancipates
    the slave, with his best wishes for his
    prosperity. . . . I could not help feeling
    that the day might come, when the well-directed
    answers made by the slave to the master, in this
    instance, would find their counterpart in
  • The moral which I gained from the dialogue was
    the power of truth over the conscience of even a
    slaveholder (68)
  • Sheridans speeches for emancipation of
    Catholics a powerful vindication of human
    rights (68)

Back to the Plantation Conditions for
consciousness, Ch. VIII-IX
  • I saw more clearly (71) I suffered more
    anxiety than most of my fellow-slaves (72).
    My poor old grandmother . .
    . (73-74)
  • The slave holiday the cunning slaveholder gives
    a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labelled
    with the name of liberty (91) we had almost
    as well be slaves to man as to rum a system of
    fraud and inhumanity
  • Sabbath school Their minds had been starved by
    their cruel masters. They had been shut up in
    mental darkness (95).
  • At Mr. Garnders I was kept in such a
    perpetual whirl of excitement, I could think of
    nothing, scarcely, but my life and in thinking
    of my life, I almost forgot my liberty (106).
  • to make a contented slave, it is necessary to
    make a thoughtless one. . . He must be able to
    detect no inconsistencies in slavery . . . And he
    can be brought to that only when he ceases to be
    a man (106)
  • Ch. XI, Master Thomas if I would be happy, I
    must lay out no plans for the future . . .
    setting aside my intellectual nature (108)

A narrative of triumphant manhood? More victor
than victim
  • Ch. X
  • Fred broken by Covey
  • The apostrophe to the ships (84)
  • The battle with Covey turning-point in my
    career, revived sense of manhood, glorious
    resurrection (89)
  • Sabbath school
  • Back to Baltimore, laboring (105-06)
  • Ch. XI escape
  • Douglasss preoccupation with manhood and power
    all but erases any self-representation linking
    him to women, family, and intimacy (David
    Leverenz 109)
  • Douglass as Faustian striver, self-made man,
    enacting the repression of the feminine required
    by middle-class virility (Jenny Franchot 149)

For next Wed./Thurs., 2/20, 21
  • A close look at Chapters X and XI
  • A reconsideration of the narrative as an
    introduction to the institution of slavery the
    persuasive force of sentimental rhetoric in the
    context of reform movements
  • from solitary striving to the forging of bonds