Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dana's Major Change

After discussion in class about Kindred, I really wanted to look at Dana’s major turning point in the novel and how it brought her to kill Rufus in the end. Throughout the novel Dana has been trying to look past the bad in Rufus and forgive him for what he does. Their relationship has always seemed to have a very distinct line as to what was okay for how he treated her and what he did to her. In the beginning, Rufus never physically beat Dana or tried to take advantage of her. However, there is a point in the novel where Rufus crosses the line with Dana and this is what I think is the beginning of Dana’s major change.

There had been a field hand that had seemed to have taken an interest in Dana, named Sam. He talked to her a couple of times, but once he was told to leave Dana alone because he would risk being sold if he didn’t, he stopped talking to her. Dana then tells Rufus that she doesn’t want him to sell Sam because when Sam had talked to her that it was a meaningless conversation. Plus, all of his family was on the Weylin plantation and she didn’t think it was acceptable when families were separated, something Rufus said he wouldn’t do. But, one day Dana walks outside and sees that Sam has been sold. Dana is upset and is trying to reason with Rufus when she explains “he hit me. It was a first, and so unexpected that I stumbled backward and fell. And it was a mistake. It was the breaking of an unspoken agreement between us – a very basic agreement – and he knew it” (238). This is when Rufus first goes against what Dana has said to him. He hit her, something that had never been done to her by Rufus before; usually the overseer or Tom Weylin was the one to do the whipping. This angered Dana and gave her the feeling of betrayal by Rufus causing her, for the first time, to put herself face to face with death so that she could transport back to 1976.

When she is back in 1976 with Kevin, she explains to him that she slit her wrists to get back. After it has been a while since she has been in the current time, she and Kevin talk about Rufus and the unspoken agreement that she and him have. Dana has told Kevin all that Rufus has done to Alice, and Kevin asks “what’s he done to you?” (245). Dana continues on to tell him that Rufus
sent me to the field, had me beaten, made me spend nearly eight months sleeping on the floor of his mother’s room, sold people … He’s done plenty, but the worst of it was to other people. He hasn’t raped me, Kevin. He understands, though you don’t seem to, that for him that would be a form of suicide. (245)
By Dana stating that if Rufus ever tried to take advantage of her that she would kill him, shows that there is a line that Dana has drawn and that if Rufus tries to cross it that he will die. There is only so much that Dana will put up with because she still knows that she isn’t really part of this time. She can deal with the physical pain that is caused because she knows that it was her free will that caused her to get a beating. She knows that it was her choice, that she is still a human when she gets physically beat. But she will not let Rufus take advantage of her, because if he does that to her it doesn’t mean that she has done anything to deserve it. At that point, she has been completely dehumanized and become a piece of property. And that she will not allow.

Right before Dana kills Rufus, he makes an advance at her. He tells Dana that she and Alice were basically one person, they looked alike and he longed for Dana how he had once longed for Alice now. Rufus started getting physical with Dana at this point and had a hold of her. Once she got free from him, she went up to the attic to get the knife that she had brought with her. Rufus followed her up to the attic and trapped her in a corner when he started to make his advances on her. Dana says, “I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover. He had understood that once” (260). The way that this passage is written explains that Dana would endure the physical pain that he could cause but she was never going to be made a slave, and that her very last straw would be when Rufus tried to make her his lover. She was not going to be dehumanized. Once Rufus had attempted to cross this line, she knew that his only fate was going to be death; and this she held true to.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nature and Slavery

After our class discussion on Charles Chesnutt’s short story “Po’ Sandy” about the naturalism used in his stories, I began wondering more about it. I started thinking mostly about how he uses nature, something seen as so calm and serene, to describe slavery, something so vial and mean. I think that it is interesting that he chose to discuss the brutalities of slavery through nature. In “Po’ Sandy”, the main character, Sandy, is a slave that is constantly moved around from plantation to plantation. Sandy doesn’t want to continue leaving Mr. Marrabo’s plantation. This is because his first wife was sold to another owner without Sandy even knowing that this had happened and now he has remarried, a woman named Tenie, and also found out that he is going to be sent to a new plantation. He doesn’t want to leave again and tells Tenie about his dilemma. She then tells Sandy that she used to be a conjure woman many of years ago and that she would change him into whatever he would like to be so that he wouldn’t have to leave. She suggested turning him into a rabbit, a wolf, or a mocking bird. But he didn’t want to be either of those animals because a rabbit and mocking bird could be killed easily and a wolf was feared by people. Tenie then suggested turning him into a tree; so she did. This is what made me start to wonder. Why did he want to be turned into a tree? Is this story a tall tale or the sad truth of a love story?

I believe that Chesnutt makes Sandy turn into a tree mainly because of the roots that a tree has. The roots of the tree are strong and stable. This symbolizes the stability that slaves seek to have; they want to feel like they aren’t just a piece of property. Trees are seen as strong and calm plants and can endure almost anything. However, even though Sandy is a tree he still has human feelings, physically and emotionally. This is seen in the story when “Mars Marrabo sent a nigger out in de woods fer ter chop tuppentime boxes. De man chop a box in dish yer tree, en hack’ de bark up two er th’ee feet, fer ter let de tuppentime run. De nex’ time Sandy wuz turnt back he had a big skyar on his lef’ lef, des lack it be’n skunt” (49). Even though Sandy had escaped his fate of being sent to a new plantation, he now didn’t have the option to defend himself against the things that were hurting him physically. While he was in the tree form, he still felt the pain that he would’ve felt had he been human. I find this very interesting that Chesnutt does this in the story. He does this because it is explaining to the people that weren’t involved in slavery that even though the slaves may have had stability, the pain that they faced was never ending. This foreshadows to the post-war period when slavery was abolished; the slaves were still indebted servants to the property that they worked on because they didn’t know any other way of life. It just shows that slavery is a never ending institution even if a slave finds stability.

As far as whether this is a tall tale or the sad truth of a love story, I think that there is truth in the falsehood of this story. This is just a way to portray the horrid institution of slavery in a friendlier way by using naturalism. I believe that this story was a made up version of the truth behind it. Tenie was defending her husband so that he wouldn’t get caught by the slave catchers by making up a tall tale about her turning him into a tree. She did this so that none of the other slaves or overseers would find out to make sure that Sandy was safe. In the beginning of the story, when they are trying to decide what to change Sandy into, he is given the option of three other animals to choose from; he doesn’t choose any of these because if he is the rabbit or the mocking bird that means that he is going to be caught and killed right away, and if he is the wolf people would fear him, people in the north. I think that Sandy is a runaway slave in hiding so that he can find the stability that he is looking for and Tenie is keeping this secret so that her husband is safe. That is until the tree is chopped down and sent to the saw mill; Sandy is caught is going to a secluded place to receive his punishment for running away. Tenie is caring for a new woman at this point in the story and doesn’t know what has happened to Sandy. However, when she finds out:
she come right inter the mill, en th’owed herse’f on de log, right in front er de saw, a-hollerin’ en cryin’ ter her Sandy ter fergib her, en not ter think hard er her, fer is wa’n’t no fault er hern. Den Tenie ‘membered de tree didn’ hab no years, en she wuz gittin’ ready fer ter wuk her gopher mixtry so ez ter turn Sandy back, w’en de mill-hands kotch holt er her en tied her arms wid a rope, en fasten’ her to one er de posts in de sawmill; en den day starter de saw up ag’in en cut de log up inter bo’ds en scantlin’s right befo’ her eyes (51).
There is a lot of truth in the falsehood of this part of this tragic love story. Tenie was trying to save Sandy from what was about to happen to him, and in turn she was tied up to a post and had to witness her husband be mauled by the overseers and brutally beaten. This was done to put fear in the minds of the slaves so that they wouldn’t try to reenact what the slave being beaten had done.

Chesnutt says that some of these stories told “poured freely into the sympathetic ear of a Northern-bred woman, disclose many a tragic incident of the darker side of slavery” (46). By saying this he was just giving a hint to what he is trying to show the people that weren’t involved in slavery. He was trying to show the darker side of the institution that most people didn’t know about. Chesnutt does an excellent job using nature to portray such a brutal institution and to tell the tragic love story of Sandy and Tenie. Using naturalism to tell the horrors of slavery was easier to relate the brutality of slavery to the Northern population, specifically women, who didn’t have to experience slavery first-hand.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Slavery Corrupts

During discussion in class today, while talking about the roles that women play in Frederick Douglass’ novel, I began to think about how much slavery truly affected the women of that time. Douglass explains that the women of the slave owners are very brutal towards the female slaves. At first, I wasn’t sure why the wives of slave owners were so hostile towards the female slaves. That was until I realized that the slaves were mistresses of their owners. This is like making a man’s wife live with the woman that he is cheating on her with and that is why the wives are so brutal towards the slave women. I then began to think about the corruption that comes along with the institution of slavery.

All people that are in a society with slavery, that don’t do something to actively oppose it, are being corrupted. The wives of slave owners have especially been corrupted by the institution of slavery. They seem to be more harsh on the slave women of the household more so than any of the other slaves. These wives have to spend countless hours of their days with women who have had relations with their husbands. Most of the slave women were either raped or used to bear children, and constantly beaten. On page 80, Douglass describes two slaves of Mrs. Hamilton saying, “of all the mangled and emaciated creatures I ever looked upon, these two were the most so.” One may think that the beatings that happened to these women could be from both of their masters, but later in the same paragraph Douglass states, “I do not know that her master ever whipped her, but I have been an eye-witness to the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton.” Douglass is painting a picture to capture some sort of sincerity in the readers. He is trying to show his audience that slavery is an institution, and that anyone who doesn’t oppose it is subject to the corruption that comes along with it.

Slavery can corrupt even the nicest, most pure people in the world. This was seen when Douglass first gets to Baltimore to his new Master. He describes Mrs. Auld as the nicest woman that he has ever met. However, once she mentions to her husband that she would like to teach Douglass how to read, Mr. Auld quickly tries to explain to her that by teaching Douglass to read that he would become “unmanageable, and of no value to his master” (78). Once she has the idea that she is a higher being and that she has power of Douglass, Mrs. Auld completely changes. Douglass says:
The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon (77-78).
Douglass explains this to his reader, once again, so that they get the idea put in their head that slavery is corrupting anyone and everyone who doesn’t do something to stop it. He is trying to get his audience to realize that the madness that was happening was going to continue until slavery was completely abolished.

I think that Douglass does a great job of grabbing the attention of the reader. He really gets emotions involved but doesn’t try to only get sympathy from readers. He wants the readers to become angry and do something to stop this way of life. He wanted something to happen, to make a difference, but he couldn’t do it himself when he wasn’t even considered human and that’s why he tried to get everyone involved in his fight against slavery.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Misreading Signs to Save His Life

After discussing in class about Benito Cereno, I started to think more about the misread signs of Captain Delano and how misreading a number of situations ultimately saved his life. Most of the reason that Delano keeps misreading these situations is because of his character. This helps him in the end because he tends to brush off or ignore situations that if he would’ve reacted to he may have been killed immediately. One specific scene that I think is extremely important is the scene when Babo is shaving Don Benito.

This scene starts on page 212, but the signs that Delano misses are on page 214. After Babo sets up all of the equipment for shaving he begins to lather up Don Benito. If Babo was really a servant of Don Benito’s and had shaved him numerous times before, most of these actions and reactions wouldn’t have occurred. The first sign that Delano misreads is when Babo is getting ready to begin the shaving, “he then made a gesture as if to being, but midway stood suspended for an instant” (214). In this quote it can be seen that this hesitance of Babo’s is most likely because he is very nervous. This is most likely the first time that he has shaved Don Benito and he doesn’t want Delano to know that he is pretending to be a servant. At this time Babo brings the sharp blade close to Don Benito’s neck and “not unaffected by the close sight of the gleaming steel, Don Benito nervously shuddered.” Don Benito is not comfortable with Babo shaving him, which is somewhat ironic because of how much trust he seems to have in Babo on the deck. These strange behaviors are noticed by Delano however he just brushes them off and begins to question Don Benito about why there isn’t a Spanish flag flying on the ship.

Once Delano begins questioning Don Benito, we see Babo interrupt his master to probably make sure that there isn’t an answer given that could reveal the secret. Babo tells his master that he shouldn’t be shaking. He then goes on to tell Delano that Don Benito always shakes while being shaved even though he has never cut him. Delano proceeds to ask Don Benito about the trip from Cape Horn to Santa Maria and why it took so long to make the trip. He mentioned that even with the lack of wind, that he has made that trip a number of times in only about two weeks. This is when Delano begins to express his doubt in the story he is being told. It is very ironic that while Delano is in the room and Babo has just explained he has never cut Don Benito, that Babo cuts Don Benito’s neck when Delano is talking about his disbelief of the story.

I think that this is possibly the most important time that Delano brushes off this disbelief and tries to trust the story. I think this because not only does Babo have a sharp blade in his hand that he could easily kill Delano and Don Benito with, but there are also in a small secluded room with no one around. Had Delano continued to question Don Benito about this, and was given a wrong answer by Don Benito I think that Babo wouldn’t have hesitated to attack the other men in the room. I think that because of Delano’s character and always looking for the good in people that by misreading, or missing, signs that were given saved his life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Power of Mind

In the book Wieland, I have been noticing the power of mind in the book a lot. It first starts in the beginning of the book when Clara first sees this strange man, who we later find out is Carwin. She says, “So flexible, and yet so stubborn, is the human mind. So obedient to impulses the most transient and brief, and yet so unalterably observant of the direction which is given to it” (50). This can be seen throughout the novel, especially when Clara, Wieland, and Playel experience hearing voices and seeing what are thought to be ghosts. However, the power of mind in this book raises a few questions for me.

It makes me wonder, why does Clara always go against what the voices are saying? She continuously puts herself in the way of danger, even though the voices that she is hearing are telling her not to. Like when the voice is telling her not to open the closet, she tries to open the closet instead of just listening to what the voices told her to do. She says that she doesn’t completely believe in living in fear of things. So she continuously does the opposite of what the voices are telling her to do. Is this what ends up keeping her safe from the fate that her father was given, since we know the same fate doesn’t happen to her, since she is writing a confession?

Why is it Wieland who listens to these powers, and becomes the one who goes against his morals? Wieland begins hearing voices and constantly listening to what they tell him to do. In his confession to the murder of his wife and children, Wieland explains that the reason that he committed these crimes was because it was the word of God. Before he commits these crimes, Wieland seems to be baffled by the fact that God has yet to ask him to prove his faith to His religion. So, he asks God to give him a task to complete to prove his faith to his religion is real. The task that he is first given is to murder his wife. At first Wieland has a difficult time completing this task. But, he ends up going through with it. Once he kills his wife, right before she dies, he explains how he gets somewhat of a rush of feeling that he enjoys. And after the crime was committed, he admits to being happy and clapping his hand in joy of what he had just completed. Thinking that he had just proven his faith to God, he felt relieved. That was until he “heard” another voice telling him that he now had to finish the crime, and kill his children as well. Wieland hearing all of these voices to murder people made me wonder if he is actually creating these voices in his head and there isn’t a supernatural power telling him to do these things.

Why are Clara, Wieland, and Playel the only people that are hearing and seeing these supernatural forces? I am more curious about the connection that Playel has to Wieland and Clara in this because he wasn’t a part of their family until Wieland married Catherine. These voices have been heard by Wieland and his family for many of years, because these voices seem to have a connection with all the abnormal deaths in his family. It just doesn’t really make sense to me why Playel is also hearing these voices. And why does it take such a toll on these three? They are constantly obsessing and thinking about these things from the supernatural world that they are hearing, and it’s possible that these supernatural things don’t even exist. It’s almost as if the voices have made the three of them paranoid of everything but, at the same time, they are waiting to hear the voices once again.

Could listening to these voices of “God” that Wieland hears, have a connection to his father’s death? Brown relates experiences that Clara has to that of memories of her knowledge of her father’s death. Reading the book, it makes me think that the fate Wieland’s father suffered is going to be similar to his own fate. But, I keep wondering if Wieland’s father actually listened to the voices that he heard and if the reason he suffered the fate that he did was because he didn’t complete the task that was asked of the voice, or “God”.