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Setting The Record Straight In History

2016 words - 9 pages

To invoke a change in the viewpoints of a society all forms of communication must be used to persuade the masses; when it comes to slavery, it is supported in the literary form by The Heroic Slave by Fredrick Douglass. Douglass writes this fictional novella in such a way that our hero, Madison Washington, becomes a symbol of the trials and tribulations that slaves go through while Mr. Listwell, a white abolitionist, is a symbol of the change that is needed by white Americans. This novella is an attempt to show African Americans and whites alike that freedom must and does come from non-violent methods, through creating a sensational story that personifies the anti-slavery movement into the character, Washington. This method of storytelling along with changes in perspective, settings, and situations invokes and strengthens already growing sympathy from white Americans, while also highlighting the ignorance of slavery ideology.
At the beginning of our novella, Douglass brings up the roots of our country by highlighting that “The State of Virginia is famous in American annals for the multitudinous array of her statesmen and heroes” (1254). He is alluding to various well-known and “important” heroes such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Furthermore Douglass brings attention that we, in our history books, have forgotten one such hero who “holds now no higher place in the records of that grand old Commonwealth than is held by a horse or an ox” (1255). These statements are a precursor to the following story of Washington who, in the eyes of Douglass, is a hero in the ranks of Jefferson and the like. It is inferred that our hero, Washington, even though “he is brought to view only by a few transient incidents” is still worthy of remembrance in our history books (1255). Douglass tells us that it is important to see the stories of this individual, even if they are fictional they are “glimpses of this great character” (1255).
In this story we are presented with Madison Washington who, by the pen of Douglass, seems to be as thoughtfully and carefully put together as the Declaration of Independence. He, like the document upon which our country was founded, is created to encompass ideals and the true form of slaves. Unlike our declaration he does not describe explicitly how to act, in this case as an African American, but instead shows through example and his own words. A key point in the novella that shows him leading by example is when aboard the ship during the mutiny, he elects not to kill those aboard the ship. He instead spares their lives and makes sure that they know he did so out of compassion saying that he was a “friend and not your enemy” speaking to our sailor narrating the story (1281). The importance of leading by example is that it shows the potential benefits of an action rather than theoretical outcome of a particular action. It has always been said that ‘actions speak louder than words’ and Douglass does just that while writing the...

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