Glory

The film Glory, praised as one of the greatest war movies of all time, features impeccable performances from Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick in this civil war movie about the 54th Massachusetts voluntary army. Although one of the main reasons the war was fought was to abolish slavery we begin to notice that the north has just as many racial hang-ups as the south does. Some of themes that we saw in the film that were also in the novels we have read thus far include religion, inequality and brutality. On two different occasions we see the black soldiers singing and praying when they are off duty. Music and the Holy Scripture are elements that we have already seen at various points in our reading starting with Jupiter Hammon. Hammon chose to communicate to the world with writing coded heavily in scripture. He was also a preacher in the black community and his main reason for writing was to tell the black not to be afraid because god was with them. The soldiers also relied on god’s world to ease their nerves about going to battle as well as fighting for their rights to go to battle. Another reoccurring theme that has been in all of the novels as well as this film is inequality in both the north and south.
Northerners felt uneasy and uncomfortable about the blacks being around them or in their neighborhood while fighting for their freedom at the same time. They went to great lengths throughout the novel to ensure that the blacks did not fight but the only reason they gave was because they didn’t think they had the “courage” to fight in a war. They also tried to pay the soldiers wages that were lower than the white soldiers got and refused to give them any supplies. In a nutshell they saw the blacks as inferior beings besides the few “tokens” like Fredrick Douglass and Thomas. Fredrick Douglass had noticed these contradictions when he escaped from the south into the north even from the abolitionist, who wanted his novel to focus heavily on the slave system in the south instead of the treatment of blacks in the north. Trip, who was a runaway slave just like Douglass, encouraged the army to rebel against the treatment of the northerners when they tried to pay them less money than they paid their whites. He reasoned that just because they did not have slaves, inequality was just as bad and would not be acceptable. Last and most emotional theme that was present in the film and novels was brutality. For various undocumented reasons, the first novels made no mention of the inhumanities that they faced in the slave institution. As stated earlier, brutality became a big theme after the abolitionist started encouraging people to write from that angle to get the masses more inclined to support their case. Douglass and Jacobs novels are key examples of the slave narratives that focused on the beatings that slaves got in the south. In the film there is also a moment were Trip is caught outside of the camp and has to take lashings for punishment. As they expose his back, which is already pelted with marks from past beatings, the characters and audience is forced to watch this man let out a stubborn cry. This allowed the white characters to understand the nature of slavery in the south and that they were no better than them unless they changed the way they saw the blacks

Harriet Jacobs

The Incidence of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs was a slave narrative written mostly from the women’s perspective on the life of slavery. Her novel has been compared to Fredrick Douglass narratives because of the emphasis that was put on the mistreatment of slaves and the personality of their masters. Unlike Douglass however, Jacobs did not break down how the institution of slavery was able to prevail. Charles Dickenson a famous English writer was known for writing about the social issues in England. After his visit to America, he decided to write his opinion on the institution of slavery. Much like Fredrick Douglass, Dickens attempted to break down the institution of slavery to show why it was still around. The separated the southern whites into 3 classes the first class were the power people who knew that slavery was wrong but never made any serious attempt to stop it. Next are the people that everyone focuses on when we talk about slavery because of their ruthlessness. Last is everyone else who don’t have the social power or influence as the ones in the other two classes but still help the system because they don’t care. He declares that all of them are equally guilty of letting the system prevail.

Fredrick Douglass

Fredrick Douglass was an astounding abolitionist writer who penetrated the western world’s conscious with his writing about his personal experiences in the institution of slavery. In his novel “My Bondage and My Freedom” he goes into an analysis about how the peculiar institution of slavery was able to flourish in the south even with free black in the northern part of the nation. One may ask themselves, how the owners prevented so many of them from running way or revolting against their perverted system. Douglass proclaimed what we know considered to be “social death,” to be the reason slave masters had so much control over them and he go into the various components they used to ensure that it worked to their advantage. Starting out in the novel we see that neither Douglass nor any of the other slaves have any idea when their exact birthday is. We also see that many of them have never had any connection with one or both of their parents for most of their lives either from being sold or having a master as their father. Douglass, of instance has no idea who his father is but speculates that it was the master of the plantation that he was born on and he also had minimal contact with his mom because she was living on another plantation and she would have to sneak off to see him. The slave’s identities being completely undocumented only reinforced the idea that they were property of their master. The loss of family connection experienced by the slaves was a crucial part of controlling them because it cause even their closest relatives to be “strangers” thus minimizing their will power to escape. Another force that benefited the owners was the language barrier amongst many of the slaves. Africans that were shipped to America did not share the same language with the slaves on the boat with them or the slaves that were already in America. In addition the slaves that had been in America their whole lives were just as oppressed because the masters banned slaves from learning to read and write, leading the underdeveloped language and social skills. As Douglass pointed out in the book language is the basic component of all understanding and knowledge thus eliminating it ultimately causes the slaves to lose all of their power. Another aspect of social death is when the masters would physically and psychologically oppress the slaves with methods such as severely beating, raping, and killing them. In the beginning of the novel, Douglass describes his first encounter with the brutality of the slavery when he saw his Aunt Hester beaten by the owner for sneaking out to see another white man and subsequently raped by him. He describes that this was not just done for pleasure, they used this as a way to exert their dominance over the women in front of the black men and also to get them pregnant in order to create more slaves to work on plantation or to put up for sell. In my opinion because of Douglass’s ability to explain why things were able to work for slaveholders in the South despite the fact that black for free in the north made the western nations more forceful to fight against the system that they had once been semi oblivious to.

Venture Smith

Since I have never been much a poetry reader I was thrilled to read the tails of being a slave through the eyes of Venture Smith. What’s also great about his tail is that not only did we learn him as a victim of slavery haven been kidnaped and sold at a very young age; we also see his fight for freedom. In a way the in class activity we did on Thursday really helped me to visually connect with his life. The ominous nature of the song really seems to capture the essence of a continuous struggle or fight which is not something that the white settlers would be listening to at the time because they had just won the American Revolution. However much like the composer of the song whose country is in the middle of the French Revolution, Smith is constantly in a battle to for his freedom. Even when the song is lightly playing it never really has a soft and happy feel to it which is what I would imagine Smiths life was like. I picture the crescendo in the song mirroring events in his life such as when he would get beaten, sold, gain his freedom, purchased his families freedom one by one and of course the death of his son Solomon from scurvy. The “light” but cautious moments in the song when the music decrescendos reminded me of Venture Smith’s struggles as a slave to work hard and save up money to buy his own while also endure the harsh treatments of his masters. I couldn’t imagine what he must have felt like having to work that hard all the time while also having to constantly fear that his wife and children might be getting abused by an owner or that they may be separated at any moment just for a profit, which did eventually happen. Even with all of this going on Smith seems to show little emotion in his writing towards his conditions which is very different from Phillis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammond. He appears to be more in tune with the things going on around him rather than expressing his own feelings, which is called external focalization. Some people believe that his writing comes off that way because the emotion might not have translated to the person who did the physical writing of the book but I believe that he omitted those emotions with a purpose. Being that he is such a strong willed, powerful and talented man I believe that he intentionally blocked those thoughts of being victimized because he knew that if he let it get to his head he would ultimately lose the fight for his family and freedom he would have eventually lost the whole fight. I believe that his novel should be a required reading in schools because it has a way of not just sending the message to young African Americans that if they stay focused and block out the negative connotations that are sadly still linked to the African American community today, they can achieve their dreams and also it could help to alleviate some of the negative ideas of African Americans that is engrained in the American psyche.

Phillis Wheatley

Before I came to the class I was familiar with Phillis Wheatley’s historical influence on the American Revolution however it was delightful to get a chance to read her poems to see her on a more personal level. I realized just how remarkable she was through her poems not just in the context of her being a slave but as an American writer. When doing an exercise in class on how Mozart and Phillis Wheatley paralleled each other I noticed that both of them seemed to express a narrative in each of their work because of the way their work appeared to build in momentum as it went along. We see how the poem “To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty,” congratulating King George for repealing the Stamp Act in the colonies, is almost immediately followed by a poem that only briefly touches on the issue of slavery in America. She begins her work “On being brought from Africa to America” saying “TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too” (Wheatley 14.) This first stanza is about her being thankful to be a Christian since she left Africa and became a slave in America. She does not hit on the horrors of slavery in a radical manner in her poems but instead lets her subtle use of words, such as the “On being brought” in the title, deliver her unexpressed feelings on the nature of slavery in America. Although she brilliantly continues to intertwine Christianity in her writing while occasionally indirectly addressing the slavery I believe it was what allowed her work to be celebrated in the masses thus allowing her to have more of an impact than she would had she have taken a more radical approach. As we read more poems, we begin to see her become bolder in her implications that the masters are sinful for the system of slavery yet she still doesn’t directly address these issues. After reading Phillis Wheatley’s work this week I found the letter written to her from Jupiter Hammond, whom we studied at the beginning of the semester, to be a very important moment in African American writing. It gave the audience even more evidence that these two slaves were not rewriting random phrases from the bible or other famous poets but were in fact brilliant poets trying to get their message across the masses even if it was done in a subtle way. One thing that I will take from Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects is that her work was a phenomenon in the colonies and England for their genius and beautiful quality. Although it was never really said as to why she chose to go back to her masters once she got to free soil in England but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that she knew that her work would be of great importance to the African American journey to freedom.

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