Fredrick Douglass – Form vs. Fact and Sophia Auld

” . . . and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.”

The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass is a detailed account on the inhumanity that Douglass faced during his time being a slave. The quote reflects the moment where Douglass was able to free himself from the doubt of his worth – allowing reality to take precedence.

In Chapter Six, Douglass speaks of Sophia Auld, Douglass’ mistress after Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. During his time spent with the Auld family he comes across the established need to keep a slave in the form of a slave. When Mrs. Auld begins to teach Douglass how to read and write, Mr. Auld stops any further teaching, stating “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master.”

Later in Douglass’ narrative he comes across the overseer for the Auld’s, Mr. Covey. Covey was a tough overseer known as “the snake” for the way he would hide and slither around in the grass to watch the slaves and try to catch them do something disobedient. Eventually, Douglass and Covey got into a physical altercation which led to Douglass’ revelation and the breakdown of this form vs. fact structure. Something fascinating about this altercation and in the overall business of slavery is the enslavement which everyone is subject to. Not to sympathize with obvious moral wrongs – like the overseers or plantation owners who subject blacks to tough labor, whipping and much, much worse – but it shows the inhumanity that the whole process pours onto everyone else. Douglass for obvious reasons represents the obvious forms of slavery, but doesn’t represent the factual enslavement – although many perceive that he does. Covey, and even Mrs. Auld, don’t represent the form of slavery but because Covey is “forced” to be cruel (however, it was likely he took pleasure in it as well), and to spy, and to hold this image as a strong overseer, he is the factual slave. Mrs. Auld, who Douglass says was a pleasant and nice person when he first met her, wanted to teach Douglass but was forced by her husband to reserve her aspirations so they hold this perceived power.

The structure of slavery that in effect creates this incredibly inhumane way of life is something that Douglass was able to see and with him standing up to Covey it was able to shine a light on this form vs. fact, which ultimately provided a role reversal on the formed slave and the factual slave.

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Walt’s barbaric yamp.

Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Song of Myself’ was a controversial poem when it was released in 1855. The sexuality openly depicted in the poem was something that wasn’t normal in the 19th-century and was deemed indecent. Whitman had another word for it – barbaric. Of course, he didn’t feel it was barbaric, but in the sarcastic voice imitating his detractors, it was barbaric yamp.

So when Whitman says he is going to “sound [his] barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”, I believe he is saying he’s going to voice his views on sexuality without care of who he’s going to offend, because in his eyes it is beautiful and it is innocent. Yelling it on the “roofs of the world” also symbolizes his rebellious intent – the roof is the cover protecting the conservative lifestyle from social change. Whitman is that change, on top this normal way of living, reciting his poem.

The poem helps influence this reasoning from its overt sexual freedom presented throughout the poem and Whitman’s quote helps show what his intent was with the poem – to shatter the traditional ideals so heavily practiced in America at that time.

Great power found in Whitman’s Song of Myself

“The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,

Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;

These come to me days and night and go from me again, But they are not the Me myself.”

I think these lines are interesting not for any metaphorical reverence, or that these lines are synecdochic (using my dinner word already), but the power in the vulnerability shown in Walt Whitman’s poem is overwhelming. This vulnerability has a universal quality that I think strikes a cord with all readers. The first line has a more personal feel to it. Examples of this would be with Whitman saying sickness within himself or his parents, and the loss he has endured, or ill-doings he has done. All these things are doubts and feelings I believe all humans share, in result making it a very personal poem for the reader as well. This understanding gives the reader a window into Whitman’s world, while Whitman holds a mirror, making that window-image reflect back to the reader.

If I were to paraphrase these lines, I believe it’s just Whitman laying down his insecurities as a being – which, like I said, are universal insecurities we all share. These “battles” and “fratricidal war” are depressingly so universal that we can still apply his battle and his war worries from his lifetime into our wars of the present.

I think these lines relate to the whole of the poem because it seems like Whitman is using his own personal struggle and trying to make it as realistic and as vulnerable as possible to try and relate to his audience. I added realistic because the poem isn’t filled with turmoil and self-doubt, it actually has moments of liberation with Whitman talking about swimming naked in a lake while everyone frets about their lives. Conclusively, the titled is very conceived – Song of Myself – because I do believe I is a poem about Whitman, but it also is a poem about the reader. Which I believe was purposely conceived this way.

– Kevin

Difficulty in The American Scholar

“I had better never see a book, than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system.”

On the surface this sentence doesn’t appear to be as challenging as some other dense sentences Emerson wrote down in his speech. However, this was a sentence that I read, then I read over again, and then over again. The language is pretty straight forward and it doesn’t require you to pull up your dictionary app on your iPhone, but it is a unique, and delightful, metaphor that I think applies to Emerson’s central idea in this speech.

I came to believe, after reviewing the sentence a handful of times, that Emerson is saying this: Don’t give me a book that is going to change my ideals purely on a perceived notion that this is a canonical book, praised by many, so it without a doubt is important and should apply to my existence of being.

I think the reason I had difficulty understanding Emerson’s point was the metaphorical nature (no pun intended) of the sentence. When I first read it I had a difficult conclusion to the meaning of the sentence, but after a few more reading and pondering moments I arrived at something different.

The sentence relates to the entire speech is a very sound way. Emerson’s overall point is his criticism of the American intellect who spends his times solely in the library reading books from other American intellects who spent their time in libraries reading books from other American intellect who……. and so forth. He doesn’t condemn this way of living or thinking, noting it’s a good thing to practice, but to design your life wholly on this could prove troublesome, and in Emerson’s way of thinking isn’t naturally correct. Emerson believes getting outside from the library and spending time contemplating your relationship with the nature around you proves to be much more important than the opposite. The first scholar, Emerson says, wrote about his relationship with nature – nothing more, nothing less. Citing they had no scholars to influence them, so they allowed nature to do the influencing. So this, perhaps by default, is the purest way to live and to teach.

In the end, the most frustrating thing about the sentence was the end part – “made a satellite instead of a system.” I had trouble understanding that, but after relating it to Emerson’s central theme it made more sense. He’s afraid these books will “make satellites”, which is equivalent to destructing nature in the most unnatural way, whether it be from physical man-made structures or perhaps man-made ideals influencing a whole nation. “Instead of a system” which sounds much more personal and introverted rather than subjected to others around you.

– Kevin

English class and Thursday night football.

It’s the second quarter in the Thursday night football game and our second class meeting.

I like football, it used to consume my time completely. Now not so much. I dig books and writing and stuff…

Cormac McCarthy.. John Steinbeck.. Colin Kaepernick.. Paul Thomas Anderson.. Kanye West.. Woody Allen. What qualities do these individuals share?

This is turning into a random stream of consciousness.