The text is one of the most influential and prominent pieces of literature to fuel the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century in the United states. Douglass himself on the other hand, was not only an ex-slave from Maryland but also, an American social reformer, a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts, and a writer. His memoir was written and published in 1845 – Lynn, Massachusetts, when slavery was still legal in much of the United States, but despite this, the narrative became such a sensation, selling over 35 thousand copies in the US and Europe.
The memoir’s primary focus is Douglass’ struggle to free himself both mentally and physically from slavery. He believed that through the narration of his personal story, he could show people what slavery entailed however, he kept in mind the larger picture, which was the hope to abolish Slavery. The aim of the author is to position his readers to accept that, in as much as the lack of free education was considered the main cause as to why slavery was prolonged, religion also played an equal role.
He clearly demonstrates how education and religion, which are both western concepts, equated to power and to comprehend how the author has positioned his audience to accept his dominant reading, the following must be examined; how ideas, values and attitudes are represented in the text, the perspective and representation of time and place, and lastly, how aesthetic features are implemented to position his audience.
One of the central ideas in the text is Douglass’ belief that acquiring an education is the only way to free himself from slavery which he mentions in as it broadened his understanding and opinion on Christianity. He now believed that one couldn’t possibly be a slave owner and a Christian without being considered a hypocrite. For instance, in his appendix he makes it very clear that he hates Throughout the text it is unmistakeably clear that one of the dominant attitudes was that, with education, comes knowledge, power and rebellious acts. This dominant attitude is supported by the following example;
It is evident that education and slavery were incompatible. Once the protagonist started to learn, he was no longer ignorant. The sudden awakening conscious enabled him to realise the injustice of slavery and its appalling idea that black people should be slaves because they were born inferior. Hence, Douglass demonstrating why it was important for the slaves to be kept illiterate. Education was a valuable weapon to white men and therefore, by maintaining the slaves uneducated, slaveholders had the power necessary to enslave black people for a prolonged period. Similarly, another dominant attitude was that, “slaveholding religion” was not a religion but an utter pretence. What Douglass insinuates is that the perversion of Christianity by slaveholders served to support their self-righteous brutality thus giving them power.
With the harsh criticism, it is evident that Douglass clearly shows how the same southerners that considered themselves devoted Christians, are the same corrupt and immoral men that not only use religion to justify slavery, but also defend slavery by using the excuse that they were bringing “Christianity” to the slaves. Herewith, Douglass vindicates the cause of the prolonged dehumanization of black people and effort to abolish slavery.
As aforementioned, when Douglass wrote this narrative, slavery was still legal in some parts of the United states. Slaves were deprived of basic facts about themselves such as their birth date or parents hence robbing them a sense of individual identity at a very young age. As they grew older, it was deemed improper to allow slaves to learn how to read and write. The representation of the nineteenth century South in relation to education showcases that slave owners clearly understood literacy would lead slaves to not only question their rights but also question why whites were permitted to keep slaves.
The following example, clearly demonstrates how white men used ignorance as a tool of slavery. ” Through the slave’s ignorance and illiteracy, they could not tell their side of the story about slavery thus putting the southerners in a position of power as they had control over what the rest of America new about slavery. Equally, with Douglass’ growing ambitious attitude to gain an education, he started to question the type of Christianity practised. At the time, one of the evangelistic reasons for the sustained enslavement was that it removed people from a culture that worshipped the devil, practiced witchcraft, sorcery and other evils.
Additionally, one of the social perspectives of the nineteenth century south was that, slavery was God’s means of protecting and providing for an inferior race through suffering the “curse of Ham” as portrayed in chapter 1, page 4; The dominant reading that is encouraged by the author is that, with the false justifications deeply imbedded during that time, there was no basis to question the kind of Christianity practiced. This portrayal throughout the text was just another powerful strategy which slaveholders implemented to sanction the imprisonment of black people.
To convince his audience that his narration was a true testimony of what happened to him, Douglass employs the Columbian Orator as a symbol in the representation of how education and religion both played equal roles to prevent the emancipation of slaves. The two main pieces Douglass focuses on in the orator are: the master-slave dialogue and the speech on behalf of Catholic emancipation. He states, Evidently, Douglass positions his readers to accept that, as he learned the fundamental skills of literacy, he also gained knowledge of the injustice of slavery.
He could now articulate himself and give both philosophical and political reasons as to why slavery was wrong. Therefore, the undisputable dominant reading suggested by Douglass is that the Columbian orator was both a symbol of human rights and the power of eloquence and articulation. Following this reading, it can be seen that Douglass viewed his own narration as an attempt to replicate The Columbian Orator.
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