I was initially confused when Dr. May told our class that the last work we would be reading, Kindred, was a work of fiction. My confusion was amplified when I found out that it was classified as science fiction. However, after finishing the novel and discussing it in detail, I understand exactly why Dr. May chose this to be our final reading. To classify this novel as science fiction is a bit misleading, I think. The story does have science fiction elements, mainly time travel, but I think the bulk of the story focuses more on the relationships between the characters. Another stark difference I found from most science fiction novels is the fact in the novel, the main character travels back in time, as opposed to venturing into the future. I believe this was the first time I had encountered a novel taking this direction, as most science fiction novels seem to obsess over the future. Returning to how the novel relates to our course, I think it’s important to look at how the course progressed. We began the semester with Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley. Of course, both Hammon and Wheatley were slaves, yet they emerged as two of the first African American writers. With Wheatley’s writing especially, one can almost see an acceptance of slavery, instead putting more focus on God. The ideas of slavery and the roles of African Americans in society were challenged as time went on, and we were given an account to the hardships of life with writers such as Venture Smith. As the semester progressed week after week, we saw new, prominent figures in African American literature, all of whom made significant contributions to what African American literature is today. To me, it seemed that the role of the African American writer changed drastically through the years. Essentially, though, all writing was centered around, or at least was connected to, slavery. With Kindred, we see how far African American literature has come. For the first time in the semester, we see a work of fiction, one that combines several genres, and seems to be a work that the author wrote from her own desires and passions. What I saw was Octavia Butler having the freedom to write about whatever she pleased to, something that sadly would not have been as easily done just decades before. The fact that this was the last novel we read really put the entire history of African American literature in perspective, I thought.
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The video we viewed in Thursday’s class was a great accompaniment to DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk”, as it brought to light many of the problems that Dubois himself mentioned in his work. The video showed the Jim Crow period, a time where African Americans were faced with many cruelties. To understand its relation to the DuBois, it is important to fully understand certain portions of the video. The video began with showing a town in North Carolina, where there was a strong black and white middle class. Using the labor skills that they had learned during their time in slavery, the African American community was able to use these skills to form business and become an affluent part of society. In time, however, economic tensions grew, as the white population felt threatened by the economic growth and power of the African Americans. With great intimidation and violence, the African American power was stifled by the Democrats. The next town that was described was that of New Orleans, which was described as a sort of haven. This was the time where Booker T. Washington was rising to prominence, and becoming a strong and popular figure in the African American society. Due to the political injustices of the past, Booker T. Washington suggested that African Americans should essentially leave civil rights alone, and focus on work and business. During this period, high schools implemented skills and trade, which African Americans hoped would offer them a place in society. Booker T. Washington argued that if they simply worked hard to provide necessities that the white population needed, and if they did not meddle in politics, the white population would not have a problem and there would be no confrontation. Atlanta was a large practitioner of Booker T. Washington’s ideas, and it was considered an experiment of sorts. Sadly, Washington’s claim did not work, and the African American’s were again subjected to political dominance and injustice. This, however, is where DuBois came in. In his text, DuBois voices his disagreement with Washington’s model for African American living, arguing that African American’s should not be left out of politics and further education. DuBois argues that Washington’s ideals clearly did not work, and that even though the African American population in Atlanta followed Washington’s ideals, they were quickly suppressed. DuBois argues that an education that is based on labor and skills is not sufficient to bring equality, and that African American society would not become strong with an education that included politics. DuBois believed that to be successful, African Americans needed significant political power. The main reasoning behind this form of education is that it would produce leaders and educators in the African American society, and these people would then guide others to similar routes, thus strengthening the culture and their place in society.
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.
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!
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
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
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
To begin our 3345 class, we were assigned to read the works of Jupiter Hammon. I was not familiar with Hammon’s work, but quickly read through his poems and letters. I was surprised, I suppose, as I did not expect the heavy religious tones in his work. I myself am not familiar with much Christian literature, so I found it a bit difficult to pull much information from his works. What did catch my attention, however, was his repeated usage of words such as salvation and redemption. I made the obvious connection of these words to religion, but I did not find much past that. The next class, however, a discussion on Hammon and his life gave me a holistic understanding of his work, and I felt like it was easier to understand. We discussed, for example, why Hammon uses religion so heavily in his texts. From my understanding of the discussion, I see Hammon’s usage of religion as a sort of metaphor to reach a specific audience. Hammon may feel as if he is able to elaborate upon his ideas and message more greatly if he uses religion as a way of relating to his audience. I found this very easy to relate to, as this method is very popular in today’s society. This target audience, I suppose, is easier to reach with information or jargon which they are accustomed to. A British sitcom, for example, will be marketed a specific way, very different from a show about cars. Aside from Hammon’s religious undertones, I found it particularly interesting that, though he was born in 1711, none of his writing was published until 1760. Also, I learned that he was a verna, or a slave that was born into slavery. Regardless of his status, he was educated with the children of his master, and was quite competent at writing. Dr. May referred to Hammon as one of the first black intellectuals, and Hammon’s popularity among his peers is very evident, especially in “An Evening Thought”. In the work, Hammon states, “it hath been requested that I would write some- thing more for the advantage of my friends, by my surperiors, gentlemen, whose judgement I de- pend on, and by my friends in general, I have had an invitation to give a public exhortation” (Hammon 24). Hammon’s words show the great influence and reputation he had among the intellectual crowd. I found this fascinating, as it is very uncommon to here of a slave in the 18th century being such a strong figure. After reading this, though, I read a bit more on Jupiter Hammon’s biography. I was again surprised to learn that he was never emancipated. Dr. May described Hammon’s long and faithful service to the Lloyd family, and noted several instances of the family acknowledging his great character. It must have been quite a feat to accomplish everything he has done while being in the position he was in. Regardless of his lifelong enslavement, Jupiter Hammon not only earned the respect of his peers, but also his owners.
For our first reading assignment, we read a blog post written by Dr. May himself. The post discussed various aspects of the controversial topic of electronic literature. Dr. May begins his article by speaking on the constantly growing problem of student’s being overwhelmed by reading assignments. Initially, I was very surprised on Dr. May’s stance on the issue, as he sympathizes with the student. I thought it was particularly interesting how he mentioned the student’s dilemma of attempting to read and balance the life expected from a college student. The most interesting part, I thought, was when Dr. May discusses how students tend to get caught up with reading as a sort of requirement to learn a specific fact, usually for a test or something of the sort. Of course, being a college student, I can very easily relate to this. I also agree that this is what reading in college has become. When I was younger, I loved to read, and spent many hours at the library. However, once high school started, I found reading became more of a hassle, and less of an escape. I almost always tried to find an excuse to get out of my reading, admittedly resorting to Wikipedia or Sparknotes on many occasions. This problem only grew larger in college, with many professors assigning lengthy and dry material, and expecting students to retain a completely random or asinine detail from it. It was until last semester, however, when I was allowed to return back into the more enjoyable and fulfilling style of reading. I took a few courses with Dr. Sasser, and she had very similar ideas to Dr. May of what reading should be, and what it has become. In fact, it was upon Dr. Sasser’s recommendation that I took this course. When reading the material in her courses, I not only felt as if I were reading for pleasure, but I also felt like I took more knowledge out of the reading itself. I am very much looking forward to the semester with Dr. May, as his views on reading and its future are very intriguing.
When mentioning Achebe, a common issue of controversy is his use of the English language. Due to the fact that Achebe is an African author, one who had his nation undergo the struggles of colonization (and the effects of the post-colonial era), many critics argue that he should stick to using his native tongue. Achebe addresses this issue in both interviews and his writing, and from my perspective, it seems that he almost embraces the idea of English now being Nigeria’s primary language. While he is by no means happy that his home country was once taken from his people, he does not seem to revolt against the change that the British brought. Achebe says that “the country which we know as Nigeria today began not so very ago as the arbitrary creation of the British” (Achebe 851). As stated, while Achebe isn’t ecstatic about the colonization, he believes that Nigeria can benefit from it, noting that rather than being resentful “it may be more profitable to look at the scene as it is” (Achebe 851). Another reason I believe Achebe embraces the changes colonization has brought Nigeria is the fact that he goes on to mention the positive aspects that the colonization brought, particularly praising the “big political units” (Achebe). It seems that Achebe realizes that it is too late to fight the change that was brought upon them, and has learned to make the best of what was given to him. What I find interesting, also, is that even by adapting to a new language, Achebe essentially mastered the art of writing, and became one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century. This, I believe, helps strengthen Achebe’s reasoning to adapt and embrace the English language.