Looking back to the weeks prior, our class has covered strictly literature. This week, however, we watched Glory, the 1989 film about the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry. This was the first all-black regiment in the US Army. Though the film was made more than a century after the events it depicts, it is a rather accurate portrayal of the times. The film clearly shows many of the problems that African American writers in the mid 19th century, in particular Frederick Douglass and DuBois, spoke about. In his texts, Douglass spoke about racism in the North, a topic which is often overlooked. Many people, even today, are oblivious to the fact that racism and prejudice was a problem in the North. It is possible that, in the larger scheme of history, these problems were overlooked. In Glory, however, this racism is clearly depicted. Though they expected to go to combat, Shaw realizes that his unit is not being taken entirely seriously, and the black soldiers are generally being exploited for labor. A particular scene shows this injustice, as after a higher ranking officer shoots a black soldier, he casually remarks “That wouldn’t have been necessary if that sesesh woman hadn’t started it. They never learn. You see sesesh has to be cleared away by the hand of God like the Jews of old. Now I will have to burn this town” (Glory). As stated earlier, many believed that African Americans were treated as equals in the North, as the North were the same people fighting for their freedom. While instances like this surely did exist, it was also seen on a less violent scale, as well. Douglass suggested that, even though he was educated, some Northerners were a bit condescending or unwilling to acknowledge him as their equal. A problem like this also exists in glory, when a fight breaks out between some white soldiers and black soldiers. Morgan Freeman’s character, Rawlins, steps in to break up the fight, and the lower ranking white soldiers scoffs at him, disrespecting his authority and position. In addition to this, I would like to return to the aforementioned notion of the regiment initially being used for labor. This part of the movie reminded me greatly of DuBois’ text, The Souls of Black Folk. In the work, DuBois argues that blacks should receive a more liberal education, one that will be beneficial to them in politics and others professions. DuBois believed that it was only with an education such as this that the community would grow more powerful. Prior to DuBois, Booker T. Washington argued for almost the opposite, believing that African Americans should focus on a more labor and trade oriented profession. This, to me, seemed to lead to a more subservient position for the African Americans, and I believe that is exactly why DuBois argued against Washington. It seemed that the regiment, in the film, was taught more of the ideals proposed by Washington, however, Shaw’s ideals were more in line with that of DuBois, as he is far more sympathetic and understanding of his regiment.
Archive for March, 2013
To my older cousin.
You have been helping abused women for many years now, devoting much of your free time to your charity organization. In class, we were reading Harriet Jacobs’ Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl, a text I thought you would very much like. Throughout the story appear many themes and sections which I believe you can either relate to or understand.
First, the story focuses heavily on the idea of forced relationships and sexual abuse. In your line of work you have encountered many victims that have dealt with similar problems. Towards the beginning of the story, Linda, the main character, conveys to the reader that her new master, Dr. Flint, is forcing her into a sexual relationship. In an attempt to avoid this, Linda forcibly enters another relationship. Throughout this story, Linda faces not only verbal abuse from Dr. Flint, but physical abuse as well. It is a terrible situation, as Linda cannot seem to win no matter what she tries. I know you have discussed the women you deal with, and they seem to echo Linda’s problems. While Linda is a sympathetic character by any reader’s standard, I believe that due to your line of work, you particularly can understand her situation.
The next theme which I found relevant to you was that of family strength. As you know so well, we come from a large family, and strong family values were always important. In this story, family is seen in two very different forms. Dr. Flint treats his illegitimate children horribly, refusing to free them. Linda, however, does everything in her power to protect her children. Towards the middle of the story, Linda fakes an escape and hides in a small closet. She does this so Dr. Flint will send her children to a more merciful master. Linda stays hidden in this small space, only catching glimpses of her children and becoming rather malnourished. I felt that this maternal love and protection for their children is something both you and I can relate to, as our mothers have sacrificed much for us.
The final idea I’d like to touch on is that of persistence. Though Linda faces constant struggles throughout the story, she never gives up. Challenges are the norm in her life, but she continues to face them in an attempt to achieve a good life for herself and her children. By the end of the story, you may be left a bit frustrated. While Linda’s new master is certainly better than Dr. Flint, she is still a slave, and has not achieved her goal. It is important to note, however, that Linda still remains optimistic at the end, strengthening the idea of persistence. I thought that you could particularly relate to this, as for much of your life you too have climbed an uphill battle. Like Linda, you were persistent, and did whatever it took to achieve what you wanted.
It seems that I have spoiled to much of the story, but I do hope you will read it one day. It is an important piece of literature!