Archive for February, 2013

3345 – Frederick Douglass – Blog #5

Earlier in the semester, I glanced over the syllabus to look over what material we would be reading throughout the year. I immediately noticed Fredrick Douglass’ name, and assumed we would be reading his famous work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I was surprised, however, when the required reading was in fact a different piece; My Bondage and My Freedom. I was not familiar with this piece of literature, as in high school, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was required reading. While reading My Bondage and My Freedom, however, the differences soon became quite evident. Where Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass seemed to be a factual recounting of events, Bondage seemed to evoke more emotional and personal qualities. This, I believe, ties in with our earlier lecture on the idea of internal and external focalization. Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass seemed to better represent external focalization, as it was similar to Venture Smith’s work, as he simply told his story, devoid of much emotional attachment. My Bondage and My Freedom, however, more closely resembled internal focalization, as it focused heavily on Douglass’ own thoughts. In addition to this, it seemed to feature a larger emphasis on Douglass’ emotions. Dr. May also brought up an issue I had often pondered myself; the idea of racism from abolitionists. Many slave narratives or historical stories tell of the better conditions African Americans received in the North as opposed to the South, and how the abolitionists fought to end slavery, however, the idea of racism coming from abolitionists, directed at African Americans, is often overlooked. Many assume that abolitionists treated slaves just as they treated their own. However, this was often not the case. This ties in somewhat with my 3340 American Literature course, in which we were studying the writing of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a known abolitionist, however, he was known to have slaves himself. In fact, it is known that Jefferson only freed two slaves in his life. This, of course, brought upon a heated debate on whether Jefferson was a true abolitionist, and whether his actions were racist. This, of course, leads to the larger idea of widespread racism coming from abolitionists towards African Americans. Of course, it seems that these possible acts of racism are often overlooked in history due to the abolitionist’s ultimate goal, which was of course to end slavery. However, this opens up yet another question: Should these actions be overlooked? This, I think, is ultimately too broad, and too complex of a question, as many factors and information must be looked at throughout history. I am interested in Dr. May’s view on this subject, however. Moving back to Frederick Douglass, though, I think it is quite interesting that Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass seems to be the more popular and widely read work. I think both works are important, but I believe My Bondage and My Freedom should be taught alongside the earlier work. Whereas the factual representation of the events are important, it is also crucial to learn more about the writer himself.

Work Count: 518

3345 – Venture Smith – Blog #4

As soon as I began reading Venture Smith’s A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, I noticed the text was far more approachable than those of Phillis Wheatley or Jupiter Hammon. Smith’s text was a relatively easy read, and very interesting as well. I felt that the text had a very epic feel to it, and I was reminded of this thought in Thursday’s class. Similar to the exercise with Phillis Wheatley and Mozart, Dr. May played us another orchestral piece that was composed the same year as Venture Smith’s text. The song started off extremely dramatic, with a slight silence followed by a crescendo. These crescendos appear throughout the song, just as silence begins to settle in. This style of music also struck me as epic, and I was able to picture Smith’s life to this. In my imagination, I was picturing the ominous silences as the struggles that Smith had to endure, whereas the crescendos represented Smith’s eventual overcoming of the situation. I also saw the deep, bellowing music as a representation of Smith’s physical stature, which was said to be quite large. Discussing the struggles that Smith went through, it is important to note his situation when compared to Hammon and Wheatley as I believe this gives great insight as to why I find Smith’s text incredibly accessible. Whereas Hammon and Wheatley were domestic slaves, Smith was a laborer. Much of the historical stories and facts are told about laborers, rather than domestic slaves. This immediately makes the text easier to identify for me, as I can recognize certain historical tidbits I had learned in high school. More interesting, however, is how some ideas between Hammon and Wheatley’s work are similar to Smith’s, but I found them easier to identify in Smith’s work. Where Wheatley would critique something but shroud it in her poetry, Smith states it clearly in his prose. Aside from the musical comparisons and the differences between Hammon and Wheatley, another topic of discussion had piqued my interest. In our discussion of internal and external focalization, Dr. May pointed out that while authors such as Hammon and Wheatley tended to use internal focalization, Smith’s text could be seen as more of external focalization. Throughout his text, Smith speaks quite bluntly about events which would normally create a rather emotional response. For example, when describing the death of his son, Smith mentions how he not only lost his son, but a bit of money as well. This emotional distance that Smith had from his text was quite puzzling at first, but I remembered that Dr. May had previously pointed out to our class that while the text was Smith’s life story, Smith had it written by an amanuensis. Due to this bit of information, I think that it is possible that because Smith was not penning the words of his text down himself, some of the emotional attachment or weight was lost when told through a third party. I am unsure whether or not Venture Smith published additional works of literature, however I find his story extremely interesting. As I mentioned earlier, the text is very accessible, and I think this text should be taught in middle school and high school as a way to build upon the limited focus on slave narrative in todays’ education.

Word Count: 553

3345 – Phillis Wheatley – Blog #3

Much like my experience with Jupiter Hammon, I was unfamiliar with Phillis Wheatley’s work. With Wheatley, I was unaware of not only her work, but also its importance. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical when approaching Wheatley’s work. I respect the writing and understand its importance, but I have struggled with poetry for much of my life. Regardless, I tried to approach the poems with a fresh and open mind. Like with Hammon’s work, it was fascinating to see the quality of the work, particularly how impressive the content is. Due to the problems and constraints that most slaves had to face, it is very interesting to see how developed Wheatley’s work is. By and large, though, I felt that I was not getting as much out of the readings as I should have. Dr. May suggested we listen to music by Mozart and then contrast his work to Wheatley’s. I felt that this was a particularly important exercise, and I felt that it helped me understand Wheatley’s poems more completely. Immediately when comparing and contrasting Mozart and Wheatley’s work, I made a connection between the tone and flow of the works. Much of the class voiced similar thoughts, noting how the highs and lows of Mozart’s music seem to mirror Wheatley’s poems. With this new appreciation of Wheatley, I went back to read her poems again, and I began noticing certain aspects I had seemingly overlooked before. I took quite fondly to the poem “An Hymn to the Evening”, as I found it stood out amongst the others. In the poem, Wheatley discusses the setting sun, as well as recognizing God’s role in nature. The poem is very heavy on imagery, and goes into great detail describing nature. I felt that I could relate to that particular poem compared to her other works.

“From the zephyr’s wing, exhales the incense of the blooming spring” (Wheatley 40).

I found the line above extremely captivating, as it explains such a simple idea in such an elaborate way. As Dr. May ended his last lecture on the idea of narrative, I couldn’t help but see potential connections between this poem and the idea of narrative. Dr. May explained that language gives us the ability to create complex narrative, and that in turn gives us our sense of being. In a broad sense, Wheatley chose a language, but also more importantly, I think, she chose these specific words in her attempt to create a complex narrative. At first I would not have viewed a poem as narrative, but reading Dr. May’s explanation of narrative helped me view the concept in a much broader scope. Wheatley’s poem “An Hymn to the Evening” certainly displays the features that create a narrative. The idea that we as humans use narrative as a means of understanding ourselves situated through time is an extremely important one, as I believe it ties into my aforementioned comment of being able to relate to this poem. Due to her language, I was able to react to the poem in a multitude of ways. I was not only able to relate to the poem, but I was able to see how it may relate to other readers as well.

Word Count: 538