Kakos' 6th Hour

Reactions and comments from my sixth hour Honors American Literature class.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Douglass, Publishing, and Power


The excellent questions below are provided by 4th hour's very own favorite realist, Kyle N. You may respond to one or to both.




1) It could be argued that Douglass' intentions for writing "Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass" were unpure; that is, he wrote the book for monetary gain. Playing Devil's Advocate, how can this perspective be argued? Also, do you agree or disagree with this theory? Support your opinions with context from the book.

2) How does the quote on the back of the book effectively sum up the entire novel in one short, powerful sentence? Why do you think the publisher's decided to put that quote, and only that quote, on the back? Most importantly, what is your interpretation of the quote?

31 Comments:

Blogger Michelle S said...

"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man" (Douglass, back cover).

This quote summarizes the journey Frederick Douglass through the entire biography. In the beginning he was made a slave; born a slave, worked as a slave, treated a slave. In the biography Douglass speaks of his life as a slave and the lives of those around him. And then in the last few chapters of the book, he adopted the courage and attitude of a man who is not a slave, which I believe enabled him to escape slavery. At least for a few months, he may have been a slave legally but his thoughts and attitude reflected his desire to be free, his self-awareness, and determination. After his escape he continued to maintain his attitude; he recognized himself a man, and not a slave. I believe the quote on the back of the book is so powerful because it also emphasizes that Douglass makes a distinction between slaves and humans, emphasizing how slaves were treated as foreign, if not less than human. I also think that it is interesting that he did not say "you shall see how a slave was made free". I think this implies how though Douglass escaped the horrors of slavery, he has not yet risen enough to call himself a free man. He has risen a step above a slave, and yet he has one more step to go.

4:34 PM  
Blogger ryanp said...

The quote on the back of the book sums up th novel in one powerful sentence because it gives the basic point driving the entire novel without repeting exact examples. The publishers decided to put that quote on the back because it is extremely powerful and it touches the readers by giving a completely new perspective than those that were stressed in the novel. I intetrpret this quote to mean that Frederick grew up as a man throughout the experiance of being a slave. The entire concept of slavery may be completely wrong and immoral, but at the same time it taught Frederick many valuable lessons and skills that most likely helped him in life after slavery. The quote also adds in the portiion about normal humans just like you or I being forced and made into the beasts that we call slaves.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Aubry P. said...

I think that the author put that quote only on the back because sometimes a few, powerful words speak louder than many not as heart wrenching words. This quote shows that in slavery, one can forget their pride. They lose their identity and intelligence which is what separates humans from everything else. Frederick becomes a man again when he discovers his freedom. This quote shows that being a slave and a man is a cycle which goes hand in hand with the other. It reveals that he could not be a man and a slave at the same time. The way he was treated did not allow him to feel confident enough as a human being. This did not allow him to be a man and a slave.

6:10 PM  
Blogger brian k said...

I believe the editor put this particular quote on the back of the book because it, simply, summarizes the book up. Usually the back of books has a paragraph or at least a few sentences about the book and the editor did exactly that, except with a quote. Everybody has seen and heard about how slaves were shipped over from Africa and worked for wealthy whites...yada yada yada, but no one had really ever heard the story of a slave escaping and making a good life for himself. I believe Douglass wrote this book not only to show people the atrocities that occurred to slaves, but to give hope to those slaves who had taught themselves to read and had, somehow, obtained his book.

6:32 PM  
Blogger KristinC said...

2) "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man."
I think this quote has a very powerful way of saying that although he was born into slavery and was still like a wild horse and had to be tamed into bondage. It also teels us that he eventaully broke free of his bondage. This one quote summarizes the transformation of Douglass. His spirit and will was broken and he was forced into slavery. But I think this quote also tells us that in a way slavery was a good thing. Douglass would never have become thet person he was had it not been for his bondage. He struggles in slavery made him a stronger mand and allowed him to stare adversity in the face and overcome.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Alexandra H said...

This quote sums up the novel because throughout most of the book, Douglass is a slave and he is treated like one. Towards the end, however, he brings himself out of slavery by standing up for himself and what he believes is right. In the end, Douglass becomes a man. I think the publisher put only this quote on the back because it is a very powerful one. People know about slavery and they know that men from other countries went to Africa and ohter places to get slaves to work for them. That is obvious that a man became a slave. It is more uncommon to see a slave become a man because alot of slaves remained slaves their entire lives.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Logan J said...

In response to the first question, I believe that he didn't have "unpure" intentions, but rather just happened upon the financial benefits. Had he written it for his personal gain, he wouldn't have considered leaving out the names of others, and the overall story would have been more journal-like instead of informative. Of course the publication of his story has benefited him, but even more so it has served as an eye-opener and altered the lives of the readers. His telling of his journey is far too thoughtful for him to be accused of ill motivations.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Thomas_N said...

The reason why the one quote sums up the entire book is because it shows his struggle of trying to become a free man. Once he got a taste of freedom by learning to read it was almost as though he had no choice but to become free. He needed to tell the world what slavery was all about and in the end he was very successful. The reader can see the injustices of slavery and how a slave would want to become a free man.

8:42 PM  
Blogger katie_r said...

"Do not use two words, when one will do," - Benjamin Franklin. I agree with Aubry; I think that the publishers decided to put only this quote on the back cover because it is a very powerful quote, and it speaks very strongly to whoever is reading it; it is not a lot of emotionless words. When the slaves are born without intelligence, never to be taught, and without an identity, given away to people besides their mothers, it makes them more like animals than humans at all. They are like cattle; pushed as hard as they will work, without a friendly caregiver, until they are old enough that they are so exhausted, that they are of no more use, and they are "turned out to paster", or sent into the woods to fend for themselves and die alone. As long as you are being herded and ordered around, never being able to talk or defend yourself, like a dumb beast, than you can never be a man. All through history classes, and throughout the begining of the book, you learn how people, like Frederick, were born into slavery, how he tried to resist a few times, but mainly, how he was a slave for life, and there was nothing he could do about it. But then he tells you, now that you know the bad part, about how he was degraded and shoved down, the important part is about to begin, and you will learn how someone will become uplifted and rise out of the nothingness they were to begin with.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Andie R said...

I suppose you could argue that Douglass wrote his novel not to educate people on slavery, but as a means to make money. Honestly, though, in this world nobody can do anything without their motives being questioned. If someone so wishes, they can find a certain significance in any choice anybody else makes. It was bound to happen to Douglass too because white slaveholders were looking for any argument possible to keep the institution of slavery in place. Throughout history, all of the influential people who helped change the world had their motives questioned and were either supported or condemned for it. Why should Douglass be any different?

I do not believe that he wrote the book for monetary gain. I think he truly wished to expose slavery for what it was and prove that slaves were human. It is too presumptuous to assume that he was doing it for the money when we do not know how much he earned from it and how well it sold while he was alive.

9:09 PM  
Blogger LindsayS said...

"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man."

I think this quote shows a timeline of Douglass' life and how everyone is born a man but slavery took that away from him until he decided to escape and become a free man. This quote is on the back cover because as Aubry and Katie mentioned before, it says so much in so little words; what his life was like and that his main goal in life was to break the bounds of slavery. This quote also ties back to a quote in the book "I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one...he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man" (Douglass 125). Both quotes show how you cannot be a slave and man because slavery requires ignorance and being a man requires intelligence.

9:49 PM  
Blogger brianc said...

I think that this quote shows how people have a choice about what they make of their lives. It doesn't matter the conditions that you start in, you can make whatever ending you desire. It may seem impossible, but if a slave can rise up from the ashes into one of the most well know and respected American Novelists, than you too can transform yourself into your own dream person. We all have a choice about how we live and what we do with our lives, some of us just choose to do less with it than the given potential. We must all use all the gifts given to us and excel into the greatest possible people we can be.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Christine D said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:00 PM  
Blogger matt l said...

I'll choose to respond to the second question, because, the other one is simply ridiculous. The quote, "you have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man" can be interpreted several ways. Personally, I think it means that the whole notion of slavery made Douglass stronger as stronger man. Douglass was involved with slavery throughout his growing up process. Consequently, slavery, and slavery alone, determined and shaped the man he became. Most people would agree that one becomes the individual they will be for the rest of their lives during their adolescence. With this said, I believe that Douglass was turned into a man through the process of slavery. However, the purpose of slavery was just the opposite. Slavery was meant to dehumanize and deteriorate the slave. The whole idea was to make slaves ignorant so that they would only feel compelled to obey whatever their master desired. With Douglass and many others, this was not the case. Slavery made them stronger and motivated the individual to TRANSCEND their situation. This quote, in one sentence, manages to describe the condition of Douglass at birth and illustrates how he created for himself the opportunity to turn a nearly indomitable predicament into the liberty he so desperately craved.

Now, to address the first question. I completely disagree with Kyle's theory. The thought I got when I read this was that the novel had absolutely no affect on the reader. Instead of recognizing Douglass' autobiography as a way to obliterate bondage, the reader ignorantly assumed Douglass only wanted money. While this may be true, it really has no affect on this narrative. The events Douglass describes are true no matter what. The objective of the story was to disclose an extreme wrongdoing. Quite frankly, I'm disappointed that Kyle even thought of this "unpure intentions" thing.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Alexaaaaa said...

I can sympathize with the view that Douglass wrote this book in order to expose the evils of slavery, but I think it is unrealistic to assume that this was his only intention in writing this book. Note that on page 146 Douglass says that he worked as a woodcutter that had to take in any work he came across to survive. Despite, or perhaps because of, his many years of having nothing, it is not surprising that Douglass should become worried about losing his newfound comforts. No one would fault him for trying to make a little more money wherever possible, especially if he was making money while preaching a good cause. Note that suffering under the thumb slavery does not constitute a good person.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Christine D said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:03 PM  
Blogger nicci c said...

I am responding to the second of the two questions regarding the qoutation on the back of the book. To start, the qoute makes a good summary for the novel because it is about a man who was forced into slavery and somehow, still managed to escape and become a man once more. From what I can tell, the editors obviously qouted this because, as stated in the question, it sums up the novel in "one short, powerful sentence". Overall, my interpretation of the qoute is baiscally how freedom is obtained. In Fredrick Douglass's life, the very right of being human was revoked from him and he was pushed into slavery. He had absolutely nothing, yet he overcame it all and got the one thing he wanted most, to be respected as a man. He broke out of the usual and got everything he could ever want.


P.S. I'm sorry that it's late!

10:22 PM  
Blogger Alexaaaaa said...

I must respectfully disagree with Matt I on the validity of Kyle's question. While it does carry negative connotations, it also forces the reader to ask him or herself why this piece of information was presented in the first place. Failure to ask this type of question means that the reader puts a dangerous amount of faith in the author's good intentions equivalent to that of lemmings as they rush off of a cliff expecting to grow wings. If everybody just read the articles the press published without wondering why they were published, the politicians would have no trouble steering the society anywhere they wanted it to go.

With the liberties taken by this edition's publishers in mind (e.x. adding 'with connections' to the title), do you think Douglass would have approved of the publishers putting that quote on the back of his book?

10:23 PM  
Blogger Olivia C. said...

Well in the midst of basketball and family, somehow I forgot to blog by ten so maybe waking up by 6AM might be sufficient to get even half haha.

In response to Kyle's second question, I feel that the quote is extremely important. It was actually stated by Douglass in the middle and was therefore done to present to the future reader that although he had suffered brutality and dehuminization, he took control of his learning and ultimately became a man. Douglass became a man as he was able to conquer his master (Mr. Covey), allowing Douglass the inspiration to once again allow for the motivation to fight for his freedom. The quote fit well at the close of the narrative because it largely summed up his novel; the single journey of a 19th century American slave to gain freedom and become a man. Through the narrative the reader does get insight in to the brutal world of slavery and sees how a man can be broken physically (but largely mentally), and therefore become a slave. It is not until the point at which that slave either gains freedom or superiority in their dealings with their master's that the slave therefore is labeled a man. The book follows such a transition and presents both views of the quote.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Olivia C. said...

On a quick second note, I strongly agree with the view Alexa presented! Great way to support your view but also I really liked the points you brought up about modern politicians!

5:57 AM  
Blogger corey c said...

"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you whall see how a salve was made a man." -Douglass

In response to the second question:

The quote on the back of the book truly does sum the story. It is Fredericks' way of describing in short, his life. I viewed the quote like this: When you call someone a man it refers to respect, it shows that the person has worth and is a person, not property, but slave is used as lowly and unrespected. Slaves are viewed as worthless property, and most often never viewed as a human being. The quote says that you see how a person with worth is transformed into someone of no purpose or value. It then states that the slave, the object, becomes a man of worth. He becomes something of value and purpose. This is the story of Frederick Douglass, he changes to a slave, and then become a man of worth and value, his life finally gains a purpose.

9:08 AM  
Blogger allison n said...

I think the quote on the back of the book sums up the novel by portraying Douglass's motivation and bluntness. I feel that he presents all of his hardships in the book very straight forward and unapologetic. This quote does the same. It is simple, yet incredibly powerful. My interpretation of the quote is exactly what it says. Nothing more, nothing less, and I think Douglass meant for it that way.

11:43 AM  
Blogger rbeckett said...

"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man"
This quote effectively sums up the entire plotline of the story. The story describes Frederick Douglass' transgression from a slave to a man. It also states the necesary elements in the mind of Frederick Douglas, for slaves to leave their bondage and become men. Douglass states this very clearly and thoroughly in his narrative autobiography.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Hannah S said...

I do not think that Fredrick Douglass wrote this book for his own gain. I think that he wrote it to share his story with others and to help prevent something terrible like this from happening again. The full title of the book includes "Written by Himself." I think that he wants people to know that this really happened and this is a first hand account of it, not an interpretation of what somebody was told or learned.

12:48 PM  
Blogger AaronW said...

I think it's a possiblilty that he wrote it for personal gain. During Douglass' time there were probably a ton of abolitionist novels going around about the stories of slaves. He possibly jumped on the bandwagon trying to make a little extra money for himself and his wife.

I also think it's a possibility that he wrote it to get his story out. He was already established as an abolitionist when his story came out, it could have been more evidence against slavery to buttress his arguements.

5:56 PM  
Blogger A_Nielsen said...

I think Douglass wrote his autobiography not for personal gain or to have others pity him but to illustrate what life was really like for a slave and to tell the actual truth. He wanted others to see how wrong slavery was and thats an understatment. Basically, he wanted the public to see how inhumane slavery was and present the question of why is there slavery and why slavery shouldn't exist.

The quote on the back of the book summed up the novel because that was Douglass's goal. He wasn't going to let people tell him he was lower than human and have pain inflicted onto him. No one has the right(presented in slavery) to whip someone or force someone to work.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Ryan S said...

I do think this is a very controversial question and makes you think about the idea and has a point. I still believe this idea is false though because Douglass does not seem like the kind of man that would do this for his monetary gain. This quote does not necessarily wrap up the book but it does leave you with something to think about and how he is trying to show the slaves point of view and breaking free of the shackles of slavery.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Tori S said...

2) I think that the quote on the back does a good job summarizing the book because not only does it tell the story but it tells how the story happened. A lot of stroies you hear to day deal with people going to the top. Starting with nothing and thriving. This is kind of the opposite because he could have had a good life in Africa or wherever but he was stuck in a horrible life. t wa downsizing his life and he struggles just to go up to an okay standard jo fliving.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Pieter O. said...

This quote on the back of the book represents how Douglass wanted people to see the other side of the story. We have all heard the story of an african who was stolen from his country and sold into slavery. Thats the "you have seen how a man was made a slave" part. But he really wants to focus on the slave becoming a man, the second part of the quote. He wants people to see that they aren't just slaves, they can make the transition both ways. Thats why he wrote the book, to get more white abolitionist supporters. He at least wanted people to see, but not pity, how he had become a slave and then escaped, thus fulfilling the quote.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Amy O. said...

What I like about the quote on the back of the book is that there is no question about what the reader is about to read. It doesn't wrench at the heartstrings, yet it opens up a certain gratitude towards determination and overcoming personal battles. The metamorphis from an overwhelmingly inhuman thing (a slave) and a man in the quote state that the book has something to offer regarding the viewpoints of both. It also puts a face to the possibility that just maybe, the white people had been wrong about the potential of black slaves.

9:39 PM  
Blogger christineT said...

I think that this quote really just sums up the book. It tells the two halves of the story. His novel tells the story of when he was a slave and he leaves you to think of your own idea of everything that will happen to him as a free man. It sums up the novel, but keeps the reader thinking on their feet so they will continue to think about slavery, and Douglass' book. Therefore, hopefully form their own opinions and comprehend the ideas of slavery and their effects completely.

10:41 PM  

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