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.