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Monday, December 11, 2006

Douglass, Publishing, and Purpose



The excellent questions below are provided by your 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?

32 Comments:

Blogger Spencer Z said...

I think that anyone who has read the book would say that their is no possible way that Douglass wrote the book solely for monetary gain, to say so is an insult to Douglass and the history of the abolition movement as a whole. The idea that someone would dramatize so extreme a tragedy of human rights for personal gain is a sickening prospect.

The quote on the back goes a step furthur in this, affirming the moral highground upon which he rights. This quote is effective to me as it appropriately illustrates the underlying theme of the book, that which takes place, and the power of the human spirit.

5:15 PM  
Blogger christine b. said...

To start off I thought it would be a good idea to provide the quote:

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

This quote on the back of the book effectively sums up the book in showing how Douglass was dehumanized ("making a man a slave") and then with knowledge and determination he again became a man.

I think the publisher put this on the back cover to illustrate Douglass' purpose in writing the book and also to say that the book shows the dehumanizing effects of slavery.

I interpret the quote as obscuring because when first glancing at the quote, it seemed the journey Douglass makes to become a man could be done by anyone, and the book is merely showing the journey through one man’s eyes. In reality, the book is about the extreme determination and hope that Douglass must overcome to achieve the highest prize of all, being treated as an equal and transforming into a man. After reading the book and understanding Douglass’s determination and hope it amazes me that even a man as proud as Douglass still feels less than human under the chains of slavery.

5:23 PM  
Blogger emilee p said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Anoel said...

1) I completly disagree with the idea that Douglass wrote this book for the money. I believe that if I were in a possition in which I had never felt freedom, I would be happy enough just to be free. I don't think that money would be extremly important to Douglass. If I had freedom for the first time ever, money wouldn't be the first thing to pop into my mind.

2) I think that the quote on the back of the book sums up the story of Frederick Douglass perfectly. At first, we see how Douglass is dehumanized and forced to witness brutal punishment and abuse. He is made to seem animal, and he seems to fit the part of the typical slave. Then, we see him rebel. He fights for his rights, and eventually educates himself and escapes to become his own man.

5:36 PM  
Blogger nathan a said...

No one can assume that Douglass wrote out of greed. It is physically impossible to prove someone’s motives. Accusing someone who was merely telling the truth is completely irrational. Secondly, even IF he was just greedy, that wouldn’t matter because what he said was honest, historical facts back his every word. The example of Fredrick Douglas is an extreme case, but I think that is never productive to assume motives. These accusations are merely speculation. Speculation helps fuel prejudice in fact. When you see someone and speculate what kind of a person he is, then he is condemned by accusations that he never even had a chance to defend. Let’s say that I speculate slave holders were well meaning and kind. This is ridiculous. They were dehumanizing people and speculating about how well meaning they were takes away from the realization of the atrocities they committed. People should be judged by their action, not speculation.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Monique R said...

(2) The quote on the back of the book sumarizes exactly what the entire book is about, making it intruiging and truthful at the same time. This quote shows his passion for the subject he wrote about and the intensity with which he lived and described his enslavement. My interpretation of the quote is that he felt degraded as a slave, "a man was made a slave," and through his fight for freedom and eventual success at reaching it, "a slave was made a man."

5:52 PM  
Blogger emilee p said...

Ha ha 1st comment!!! … well, ok 6th works too.

2.) I think that this quote sums up the book fairly well. Throughout the book, you read about the torture, disgrace, and dehumanization of blacks as they are made into white men’s slaves. I think that at one time they were “men,” respected and accepted as part of there own free society. However, when these “men” were brought to America to become slaves, their spirit was broken and they became something much less than a man or woman. Nevertheless, Douglass gained his freedom, and his spirit back; through his own powerful will, proving himself to be a man once again.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Jordyn S said...

I'm going to take a stab in the other direction

P.S. I used a lot of sarcasm


2) The quote on the back of the book is supposed to make you think. First instinct would tell you that the quote represents Douglass’ overcoming of various struggles and finally becoming free. Well, the quote doesn’t say “made a free man” it just says “made a man.” Nor does Douglass state that men ever started out as being free, only as men. Why not add the word free? Does he think people didn’t take full advantages of their privileges while they had them and they were punished with slavery? My guess is probably not, but if that’s the case, slavery is one extreme measure to make it clear that you are pretty lucky to have all of these privileges. Now, I really do not think that’s what slavery was about, showing people they were lucky. In all honesty, I think the Americans just wanted relatively cheap labor, and boy did we get what we wanted, while also using, abusing, and breaking down an entire race mentally and physically. Could you really argue that being just an ordinary man is different from being a slave? We ordinary men are conformists, AKA the most legal form of slavery out there. Seriously, the government regulates what we can and cannot do, and we go along with it, for the most part. Then you get your “free men” who use their freedoms when they feel it’s necessary, for example, freedom of speech. Well we all know that one is pretty much lost. You can’t REALLY say whatever you want, because you get imprisoned if you threaten to harm others, or the airport, or government buildings, or your neighbor’s throat by shoving your religion down it, etc. So now you’re in prison, and guess what that means? SLAVERY! You did something wrong, therefore, you will be fed this, this…. well we really don’t know what it is, but you’ll eat it, but only at these specific times during the day, here is your cardboard box to sleep on, you’ll do this great thing called waste your time doing pointless tasks (not that you have anything better to do, you’re in prison remember?) that benefit everyone else all day (community service) whenever we tell you, please hesitate to call us if you desire anything. Then again, imprisonment mostly revolves around people’s personal and foolish choices. The slaves never chose to be slaves, and never chose to be treated so horribly, but that’s what makes us all human. The white people made a pretty big mistake, and the black people never got to chose to be a slave or not, but they have the choice now, the choice to continue to live here, or move. They continue to choose to live here, even though we may still be caught in this cycle of oppression from our government, however far from severe it is. You think they would want to go back to Africa? I’m sure the civil wars and genocide are extremely appealing. Especially when they get to vote and all of these things now, we’re really making an honest effort to make this up to them somehow. I really doubt any of our efforts will ever be good enough though, I don’t even know how you could make up something like that to the entire race. But until then I suppose we will just keep trying, maybe we can even elect Barack Obama as the next president. (He’s not only black, but a democrat too!) Why put this quote on the back of the book? Simple, we are humans, and we have feelings, which means publishers can use quotes like this to guilt us into buying their book, or maybe just perk our interest into it. Either way, you just gave your ten bucks to Holt, Rinehart and Winston. I’ll leave with this quote “the earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those that are killing it have names and addresses.” –Utah Phillips

6:20 PM  
Blogger Kyle N said...

To start, what dashing, intelligent young man came up with these brilliant blog questions? How fortunate we are to have him in our class! Anyway, to answer promt #1.... I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Douglass did, in fact, write the book for monetary gain. For this, I do not blame him. After all, he already had the riveting tale of a former slave, plus the intelligence to pen the story, so why not make a few bucks (ironic I'm using that word, considering it was once used as a name for a slave) while he's at it? I do not think that it is a "sickening prospect" to think that he wrote it for money. Douglass had his freedom, and now he wanted the world, he wanted to go straight to the top. In my opinion, Douglass is sort of an African-American version of Scarface. So with the opinion that he wrote the book for monetary gain, it still is not an "insult to Douglass and the abolition movement as a whole", as our dear friend Spencer said. It ends up being a winning senario for both parties; Douglass gets fame, power, and riches beyond his wildest dreams, and the abolitionist movement gets a prime example in Douglass's story off to which base its entire movement. Fredrick Douglass is a brillant man.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Lauren F. said...

Wow! Jordan S. you write really long yet really great entries!! Nice Job!

I agree with Spencer and Amanda on the first question that Douglass did not write this novel to gain money. He wanted to prove that it was possible for a slave to write and be a very intelligent person that also has a conscious and ability to be judgmental. After he became a free person, money is not the first thing that probably entered his mind. He would think about what he was going to do with the rest of his life, now that it is his personal choice, and how he was going to make it happen.
When he wrote the book, he could have thought that it would never turn into anything, just because he was a black person in the time. His intentions were true and his determination was the source of inspiration for his narrative.

6:42 PM  
Blogger kaitlinb said...

I strongly disagree with the theory in the first paragraph and think that Frederick Douglass would have been fine without making a penny from the book. I refer to the part of the book where he says he has a tear down his face as he wrote about the sadness the songs slaves sang brought to him. A man could not fake the emotion that his words expressed, it was real and money had nothing to do with it. I do not know how anyone could think that Frederick Douglass' intentions were money, if they have truly read the book. Slavery is something Frederick Douglass survived, yet still had to live his life through; that is real and he wrote the book to express his feelings and try to explain the horrors of slavery.

7:00 PM  
Blogger EmilyL said...

The beginning of this quote caught my attention, “…a man was made a slave.” It was not Douglass’ birth into slavery that made him a slave, but rather life circumstances that succeeded in breaking and tearing him down. When he first traveled to Baltimore as a young boy, he had not yet been weighted down by the true understanding that he was not his own master. His ignorance protected him from such knowledge.

As Douglass progressed in his reading and writing skills, these newfound abilities created in him a restless and frustrated spirit. He now knew about the things he was unable to attain, such as freedom. Irony lies in the fact that the very tools which should have helped him gain ‘manhood’ only drug him down into the chasm of slavery. His knowledge made him aware of the prison surrounding him.

His experience at Covey’s brought him to his lowest depths but also raised him to new heights. Douglass was made into a slave at Covey’s. He reached the last stage of desperation-quiet desperation, found in his resignation to his life state. When he lost the desire to fight, he also any freedom he had. However, his battle with Covey marks the change from slave to man. “This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave” (Douglass 93). Not only was it the turning-point, it was also the beginning of the end of his slavehood. From this experience, Douglass gained new hope and determination to permanently throw off the chains of slavery.

7:07 PM  
Blogger EmilyL said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:10 PM  
Blogger BessieS said...

I agree with Spencer and everyone else who have said that Douglass did not write this book for the monetary gain. Saying that he did sounds similar to the idea that ‘the holocaust never happened’ and in a way implies that there is nothing to learn from the book.
The quote on the back of the book sums it up very well because he does start out as a person and I think that when he starts referring to people as his ‘master’ is when he really becomes less than human (a slave), then again at the end of the book when he decided to defy his ‘master’ and run away he became a man/ person again. I think that this quote is very open and could fit many situations. It could mean that if someone is controlled entirely, they can still break free of the chains and become a person again, but that their experiences from the past will be a guiding force through out their life.

7:13 PM  
Blogger erinl said...

1) This perspective could be argued by; it could not have been for monetary gain because he had no desire to gain anything else. He already had his freedom, his wife, he knew how to read and write, and he had some money. Also, this book could not have been written for monetary gain because he knew writing this book could put him in danger because it could have been controversal, but instead, he risked that and wrote the book so others could see the horrors of slavery and racism, and how he (along with other brave souls)had hope and searched for freedom. He wanted readers to understand how hard it was to get to where he was.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Erin G said...

I don't necessarily agree with what I am about to argue, but I'm going to try to play devil's advocate and agree with Kyle.

Why couldn't Douglass write this for monetary gains? Humans are selfish, that's a fact. We are selfish to insure our survival; selfishness is the most primal instinct ingrained in our genes. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are selfish and you take actions in the name of your own security and "survival". In the world of civilization today that means you have to compete using money and that means you want to get rich. Having the most money means the best home, food, and of course, toys. Why, then, couldn't Douglass be the same way; insuring that he has got the best. When we were discussing transcendentalism we all toiled over material possessions and why we have them. Even if we all agree that we don't need material things to be happy, I don't think anyone would be willing to give up everything they have. I know you like your IPOD and your cell phone. And didn't we agree that people get bored with material possessions? That they just end up becoming more greedy? Well, why couldn't Douglass become bored with his freedom? Yes, he experienced many hardships and overcame the metaphorical chains of slavery, but just as we might earn a material possession through hard work we may become bored with it. Obviously the "conversion scale" is a little unproportional here, but the same idea applies. After his freedom, maybe Douglass became bored with "just being free" and wanted to make some dough, just like all the other free men. The abolitionist movement was growing, he had a good story to tell, why not give it a shot?

7:16 PM  
Blogger Kelly O said...

1) I also completely disagree that Douglass wrote this book for monetary gain. If you had lived your life in slavery and then you had freedom, I think that would make you completely satisfied. I don't think he would get free and suddenly transform into a greedy man whose main purpose in life is to get wealthier. I think his goal for the book was to help display the horrors of slavery by telling his story. He may have made some money because of the book, but money was not the goal.

7:18 PM  
Blogger EmilyL said...

A quick note about the monetary schemes of Douglass:

It is irrelevant. Even if he wanted wealth, his book has impacted and enlightened people throughout time. If that was all he wanted, he succeeded. If he truly wanted money, that didn't affect the power of his message.

By the way, Kyle, it's "Dasher" not "Dashing." Glad to see that you are starting to embrace the concept of reindeer.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Jennifer W said...

The quote on the back of the book sums up the entire novel in one short sentence very effectively. The quote, in my opinion, is saying that everyone knows how slaves were treated, how they became a slave, and everything else about them, but not many people know how slaves over came this. Frederick Douglass wants to describe how he over came it and let people know that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. The quote sums up the book however, because the novel is about his life. This quote pretty much sums up his life as well. He was turned into a slave and then he turned it around and became a man again.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Megan D said...

I think that the quote on the back of the book sums up the main points of the book, but it also does not capture/evoke the same emotions that the book itself does. The quote "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man" shows Douglass' transition through life. At first, he is nothing more than a slave, that was what he knew because no one told him any different. As he goes through his life, he learns that there is something that seems just a little out of place. He is constantly treated poorly, and he has had enough of it. He comes across the knowledge of freedom and has a breif glimpse of hope. He then sees that he can be more than a slave, he can be a man, but he has to be the one the make the transition. Through the rest of the story, he learns what it means to fight for what you believe is right, and to stand up for himself. Even if others did not respect him as a man, he knew that he was more than a slave now, and he would never go back.

8:00 PM  
Blogger J Hunt said...

I think that one way this could be argued is simply that he knew the controversy of the topic of slavery, he knew his past, and he knew the past of his fellow slaves. This information put together would certainly cause an uproar or at least create interest in the subject. This amount of interest would make many people want to buy his book. He saw this as a way to make money as well as teach the truth of slavery. This would have been a smart idea altough I kinda doubt these were his intentions!

8:25 PM  
Blogger mackenzieL said...

OK, to start, I just wanted to point out that our "dashing and intelligent young man" spelled prompt wrong...but that's just a tiny detail.

Anyhoo…I think this quote is the heart of this book. In one short sentence he effectively communicates the pain, brutality and hopelessness he endured in one time of his life. However, he also blends in a sense of hope and peace that is to come. This is why this quote is the heart of the book and is so powerful. As a publisher, I would have only that quote on the back of the book because that is usually where books have the blurb that explains the plot of the book. When the reader turns the book over to see what the book is about all they read is the quote, which portrays the book in such a powerful way that the person just HAS to read it.

Also, I noticed that altogether the publisher’s name is printed four times on the cover. Douglass’s name appears only half as much and that is when they are stating the title (which HAS to be stated because it IS the cover, duh). What does this say about Douglass’s intentions compared to modern time’s/America’s?

8:28 PM  
Blogger ryan f said...

To address the first question, I think it is completely WRONG to say that Douglass wrote the book for monetary gain. Douglass was living in a time of tourture and absolute horror for all Africans at the time. It would be almost a rude claim to say that it was all for him to get attention or for others to take pity on his situation. Although some may say taht this was a way for him to feel sorry for himself, i believe it was a way for him to express his emotions and vent what was going on at that time period. This was in no way written for monetary gain.

8:28 PM  
Blogger JordanL said...

I think the quote on the back sums up the book perfectly. It shows how Douglass was made a slave and overcame his hardships. In the book it talks about his experiences from both inside slavery and from an almost free slave. The quote sums up all of his experiences and his journey in one powerful statement. I think the quote says that Douglass was forced into slavery and through his own free will he overcame it.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Sarah P said...

I think that this quote sums up the book becasue throughout the book it is discussed, the begining of Douglass' slavehood, and him entering in the slave trade enviornment. So this shows the first half of the quote, a man becoming a slave. And in the latter part of the book when Douglass is slowly becoming enlightened in the fact that the ability to be free is possibly obtainable. So this is illustrated by the second half of the quote, "you shall see how a slave is made a man."

And also...i COMPLETLY disagree with Kyle, i absolutly do not think that he wrote this book souly for monetary gain. I think he may have learned to read and write for his gain, but i think he put those skills that he aquired to use in the purpose of writing this book for the better of mankind. So i don't think that you can just simpily say that he only did this for himself, because i really dont think that is fair, to Douglass, let alone to anyone who has read this book. The trials and tribulations that Douglass had to go through were far worse than anything that any of us have had to endure. So the fact that he came out of such a terrible situation, AND have something to show for it, is truely remarkable.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Alyssag said...

First of all, I am going to have to agree with Sarah on this one, and pretty much the rest of this class. Douglass wrote this book for the purpose to "show how a man was made a slave", and "how a slave was made a man." Douglass wanted his writing to be physical proof that slaves WERE human, and were capable of writing and reading. Because Douglass was actually a slave himself, it is so powerful and effective to the reader becuse he is able to make you relate to his thoughts and actions with passionate passages of his experiences. I believe Kyle, that Douglass only wanted people to see through an actual slaves eyes not only the inhumane actions taken against the slaves, but feel and experience the ups and downs, the hope, and the hopelessness of slavery. I dont think he would have cared if he had made a cent on this book as long as he had effected one persons views of slavery.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Chris B said...

It shows that the slaves were much more then slaves; they were men. I think that the publishers decided to put that on the back because it does indeed sum up the book. The book does talk of a slave becoming a man, so it was a very appropriate quote to have on the back. My interpretation is a very literall one, and that it means exactly what it says. A slave becoming a man.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Jessica K said...

The quote on the back does sum up the story of Douglass' life. He was broken and turned into a slave but he found hope and will for freedom giving him the strength to become a man. It shows that even in the hardest, toughest times one can succeed if they try. This quote can inspire you and give you hope. It shows that a happy ending can still exsist. The man is being your own person, free to be who you are where a slave is repressed into something they should never be. The quote for me gives hope and a feeling that one can succeed.

9:04 PM  
Blogger jessicam said...

In response to the second question, I think the quote on the back of the book I think is a very good summary of the entire narrative. Fredrich Douglass throughout the entire book talks about how he viewed slavery in his eyes and from his experiences. All of these were extremely degrading and dehumanizing; therefore the part of the quote about how a man becomes a slave. Yet the second part of the quote shows more of the ending of the book and the overall theme and tone that he writes in. He shows how he rose back up and how he fought the society and it's rules for slavery. He shows his personal struggle from a slave to become a real human being just like any white man.

9:05 PM  
Blogger clay w said...

The author wanted the reader to realize that it was easy to make a man become a slave. All the slave owner had to do was dehumanize the person and treat them as less than an animal, but he wanted the reader to know that though we can see many examples throughout literature of men becoming slaves and the horribly painful process therein, he was going to show us the process that took more work and more painful initiative than the other, and that was the process of a slave becoming a man. The slave had nothing to start with, and therefore had nothing to lose, but it also meant that the slave had nothing to stand on to start the journey except his own two feet. We had seen in many cases how men were turned into slaves, and now it was time for someone to change the game and show us how a slave could work from nothing into becoming a man.

9:30 AM  
Blogger shannon a said...

2) I feel that the quote on the back of the book does sum up the book in many ways. This quote represents the struggles he had to go through in his life. It tells about how was dehumanized as Christine said and then take that in and being able to turn around and become that free man he wants to be. The publishers put this quote on the back of the book to actually sum up Douglass' life. It sets the mood for the book and show the effects of slavery has upon him. I feel that this quote really shows what he had to go through to become what he is today. First instinct would tell you that the quote represents Douglass’ overcoming of various struggles and finally becoming free. "Well, the quote doesn’t say “made a free man” it just says “made a man.”" (jordan s) I agree with this because it is showing that he got dehumanized and treated unfairly. By saying "made a man" it shows that he had to become a lot more before he was free.

good questions kyle!

8:38 PM  
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6:37 AM  

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