Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sufficient Food

Journal No. 10

English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Harriet Jacobs

I. "My mother had been weaned at three months old, that the babe of the mistress might obtain sufficient food... When they became women, my mother was a most faithful servant to her whiter foster sister."
II. Jacobs recounts, painfully, how her mother's duties were determined even as a small child.

III. Just as Douglass reflects on the cruelties of slavery, so does Jacobs. Jacobs did not realize that she was a slave until she was around six years old. She had experienced the loss of her mother and was thrown into her world upon her death. Reflecting on the treatment that her mother had received while still alive, she is told by people around her that her mother had been "a slave merely in name" (1811). Contrary to what Jacobs is told, it seems to me that Jacobs' mother was treated with cruelty as a baby. The priorities of a slave-owner are so much different than what we might consider "normal" today. If a mother needs to nourish her child, we would consider it amazingly cruel to force the mother to stop feeding the child. However, as Jacobs describes, her own mother's life was considered much less important than that of her own future owner's life. Jacobs' grandmother fed both children at her own bosom and was asked to treat her flesh and blood as a second-rate being and hope that the baby would be able to find nourishment without milk. What a cruel society! On top of this most horrible behavior, Jacobs' mother grew up to be the slave of the very same child who received nourishment from Jacobs' grandmother. This defines the morality of the time, for me. This description of events really puts things into perspective. Yes, the beatings and raping of slaves is so incredibly cruel, but to me, it is just as cruel to put a child at risk of death in order to sustain the life of another child which you deem more worthy of living. Who are we to say that one child should suffer in order for another to thrive? Do we continue to choose one life over another in our "modern" society?

Born To Be A Chattel

Journal No. 9

English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Harriet Jacobs
I. "The slave child had no thought for the morrow; but there came that blight, which too surely waits on every human being born to be a chattel."

II. Harriet Jacobs speaks from her personal memories about what limitations a slave grows up with.

III. Jacobs provides her readers with an intimate look into the lives of slave children. Growing up without a mother or father, many of these children are unable to connect with their families. If a child does get to stay with a family-member, it is likely that they will eventually be separated and sold off to another slave owner. Family is where children are able to get the most support and encouragement. When children do not have families (even non-biological families) to encourage them to thrive, they may not have the spirit or the will to do it on their own. In addition, slave children see their loved ones (friends and family) sold off or beaten for the slightest actions. When these children are forced to witness these cruelties they slowly become less optimistic and less motivated to live life. Not to be too cliche, but their spirits have been broken, in a sense. You have no ability to get the education that you see your white peers receiving, you'll always have the same raggedy shirt (and often no pants, as Jacobs points out), you'll never be allowed to keep your own children for long, and you may never be able to leave on your own free will. On top of that, if you were able to leave the plantation, you would never be able to apply for the better-paying job, no matter how much more qualified than your white counter-parts you might be. The world of this time was so cruel and abusive towards slaves that children were not spared the "ideals" that the masters had set forth. The world that they lived in usually began at birth and you never questioned what your lot in life was. I suppose in some ways, having no hope as a child was easier to live with than having hope that was cruelly crushed over and over again.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kind Masters

Journal No. 8

English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Frederick Douglass
I. "Slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind."

II. Frederick Douglass explains that the brutality of slavery hides itself.

III. Douglass described an instance where a slave was encountered by his master. The master and the slave had never met since the master had so many slaves in his ownership. As the master went past the slave and asked how he was doing and how his master treated him, he was honest. Colonel Lloyd listened as the slave explained that he was treated poorly and worked too hard. The colonel then asked the slave to whom he belonged. "To colonel Lloyd." After the colonel hears this, he waits a while before deciding to take his revenge out on this slave. Lloyd was so viscious and cruel to this slave that many slaves heard about it and realized that they could no longer be honest. Fearing for their lives and realizing that spies were sent in to test them, slaves would answer questions with suppressed truths rather than revealing what really happened in their painful worlds.

This is one of the many painful ways that slaves were forced to live in order to survive. It took this poor man a horrible lesson to realize that he would never be able to speak his own opinion, no matter how honest. Speaking out against any white man would have been forbidden. Even if this had not been Colonel Lloyd's slave, I'm sure that he would have still found a way to punish him. He, like so many other men, felt that to insult one man of the white race was to insult all of the white race. If he had insulted the women - well, that would have definitely been a lynching!

Blood-Stained Gate

Journal No.7
English 48A

Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Frederick Douglass

I. "It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass."

II. Frederick Douglass is recounting to his audience the first occurrence of cruelty that he saw bestowed upon a slave - his aunt - by his owner.

III. Douglass is vividly describing the moment in time in which he left boyhood and crossed over into the "hell of slavery." This was not only the first time that he observed such great acts of cruelty, but this was also the first time that he had witnessed cruelty to someone that he loved. This occasion left unseen scars that ran deeper than any physical scars ever could. Douglass uses very bold and effective images of blood and flames to remind his readers of how "wrong" these actions (and slavery itself) are. His audience may have consisted of mostly white, male slave-owners, but they would have had some conscience within them to even listen to his speech or to read his book. There would have been something compelling them to listen and/or read what he had to say in the first place. Douglass needed to write and speak of the truth bluntly but still keep his standing with this somewhat skeptical and reluctant audience. Douglass' ability to master this fine balance plays out well even by today's standards.

Douglass literally went from being a young, innocent child who had witnessed hardly any cruelty or violence first-hand to becoming a tainted, oppressed young man. He no longer had the ability to believe in the naievete that he had understood for so long. He now knew that slavery was something that turned ALL people involved - slaves and owners both - into creatures that had to fight to survive. These were no longer people, they were creatures. In Douglass' own words, his master "was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slave-holding" (2074). "He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush." Mr. Plummer had succumbed to a world of eternal hatred and misery. In order to become a slave-owner, you had to sell your soul to the devil.

House of Identities

Journal No. 6
English 48A

Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Edgar Allan Poe
I. "While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened...my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder -- there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters -- and the deep and dark tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher."

II. The fissure in the House of Usher has widened and the house implodes and falls into the earth.

III. The main character of the story is fleeing the House of Usher and looks back as he hears a sound only to see that the house itself has fallen to pieces. This image reminds me of a person who is struggling to be able to tell the difference between the real and the imagined. This is perhaps what happens in the mind of someone who is getting therapy for psychosis or schizophrenia. I believe that this person has created these characters and situations in their minds to avoid reality. Roderick and Madeline Usher could both be figments of the main character's imagination. When Madeline dies (or Roderick believes that she is dead), her death seems to be a representation of a specific portion of the main character's psychology that is missing or dead. When she returns or comes back to life, perhaps the main character is acknoweldging that part of his brain again. Roderick and Madeline then die together. Is this where the main character is losing more of his well-built fantastical world? As he flees from the home, the house destroys itself and falls deep into the ground. This could be the final representation of a mad man gaining sanity back, though to him it seems as though his whole world has literally come crashing down around him. He does not know where reality ends and where madness begins.

As I was reading the ending of the story, I was reminded of a recent account of the same situation. In the movie "Identity," ten characters all meet at a hotel, stranded in the middle of the night in the rain. One by one, the characters are killed off. At first, these seem to be people who are dying in brutal ways. However, we later realize that these are not individuals but instead the personas created by a man with schizophrenia. As each of these personas are exposed, they die off. There is a good cliff hanger at the end, though, and the murdering schizophrenic man gets away with murder. To me, the movie is clearly based on "The Fall of the House of Usher." It was not quite as well written, though. :)

Moss-grown Burial Stone

Journal No. 5
English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Nathaniel Hawthorne

I. "The grass of many years has sprung up and withered on that grave, the burial-stone is moss-grown, and good Mr. Hooper's face is dust; but awful is still the thought, that it mouldered beneath the black veil!"

II. Even after his death, the parishioners and people surrounding Mr. Hooper did not remove
the veil to reveal what is beneath.
III. As Mr. Hooper dies, the people present at his death-bed wish to have him remove his black veil. He becomes angry and insists that the veil stay. Nathaniel Hawthorne is creating a dramatic image of the rotting body wasting away while the strong fabric of the veil continues on for eternity. This is perpetuating the symbol of fear that everyone else wanted to remove. If the veil is around for many generations to come, so are the sins and fears which prompted it's placement in the first place. If the veil lives on, don't the reasons for it's existence live on, too? If Mr. Hooper had intended to place the veil for symbolic reasons and to remind society of their sins, then the sins would only last as long as the veil did. People are inclined to still wonder why it existed in the first place if it continues to be so important even after Mr. Hooper's passing. The citizens would therefore continue to judge Mr. Hooper many years after his death simply because he wore a veil. I imagine that the veil acted more as a net or a sponge than an actual veil. Perhaps he was trying to keep something out (hatred and hypocrisy) rather than keep something in (hiding his own sins and fears). He has turned the tables on the people who judged him the most by keeping the veil in place, even long after his own body has been consumed by and returned to the earth.

Drawn Darkly

Journal No. 4
English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Nathaniel Hawthorne

I. "Even amid his grief, Mr. Hooper smiled to think that only a material emblem had separated him from happiness, though the horrors which it shadowed forth, must be drawn darkly between the fondest of lovers."

II. Mr. Hooper understands (and even expects) that the veil will offer an opportunity for even those who are closest to turn on him in judgment.

III. Though Mr. Hooper is expecting Elizabeth to stand by his decision, he believes deep down that she too will leave him. He has chosen to believe in something that is out of the ordinary and uncomfortable for most people. The mystery that many of his parishioners have turned away from is the same mystery which has Hawthorne's readers turning pages for more. We, too, want to know what is "wrong" with Mr. Hooper. What did he do to pledge the rest of his life to secrecy and devotion so strong that he can not share even with the woman whom he loves? It is implied that he must have sinned. He could be repenting these sins by wearing the veil as a commitment to God. It is also possible that he could be hiding from his sins. Had he murdered someone, he might be grieving not only the loss of that person but also hiding away so that the rest of the world will never see the guilt in his face. He could also be hiding away to prove the sins of others around him. Is he really committed to making such a point that he has intentionally isolated himself from society for the rest of his life? These are just a few of the theories as to why Mr. Hooper is leading a lonely, defiant life. This is why this story works so well. The ominous intention of the veil is to not reveal but instead to present even more questions. Why?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Far-off Foes

Journal No. 3

English 48A
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I chose: Henry David Thoreau
I. "I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless.

II. Thoreau points out that the local merchants are more threatening to the lack of humanity in the current society than are those who come from other countries.

III. In Thoreau's speech, he is stating that the local merchants who abuse human rights are much more oppressive than any war which the United States might engage in with another far-off country. These men and women who support slave labor and other dehumanizing acts are on the surface saying that they believe in freeing slaves and ending the war. However, their actions do not support these fragile and thin promises. Thoreau is crying out for forward momentum and would like to see his supporters demand the same change and action. He is desperately looking for change that can be felt across the board- not just in the pockets of politicians and businessmen. Thoreau warns people of the dangers of passing the buck. In order for action to happen, you must take it yourself. If you want to see change, make change happen yourself. "They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret" (1861). Thoreau's words are delicately placed in order to encourage action but to avoid raising suspicion or frightening anyone away. He made efforts to be thoughtful while calling for a massive movement against the standards that the society had accepted until then. He was in the midst of witnessing great change - and he wanted to help in leading that change in the right direction.