Use of the Fences Metaphor in Describing Racial Injustice in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the Song "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", and August Wilson's Fences
In today's world it is difficult for young people to get a good handle on the past. This is especially the case when talking about the history of African-Americans in the United States and the "consequences of racial injustice" which they faced. Toni Morrison shares her thoughts on this topic in her novel The Bluest Eye through the use of the metaphor, " the hem of life." This idea of marginalizing African-Americans was used well to describe the hardships of most African-Americans throughout history. A more effective metaphor was utilized in August Wilson's play Fences, where the same hardships discussed by Morrison were related back to the title of the play. The idea of the separation that the fence metaphor presents seemed to apply to African-Americans in the sixties, when his book was set, the characters in The Bluest Eye, as well as slaves. When reading the narrative by Frederick Douglass or even "Swing Low, Sweet Chariots," the fences metaphor stood out and was clearly very effective in describing racial injustice.
The very idea of slavery is based upon separation. Frederick Douglass discusses just how slavery acts as a fence in human separation. Just as African-Americans were separated from their homes, they were also taken from their homes, they were also taken from their families. Douglass writes, "[m]y mother and I were separated when I was but an infant" (366). Slavery built a fence between Douglass and his mother, keeping them from experiencing life with their family. Slaves were split apart from each purely because of the greed of the slave owners and nothing more. This kind of separation is far more than a physical act, but also weighs heavily on the emotions as well. Douglass expressed these emotions in his narrative and could be seen in particular when he was "utterly astonished, since [he] came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness" (367). With slavery came a fence of ignorance towards African-Americans. The contempt Douglass expresses clearly depicts the difference between the thought patterns of people in the south as compared to the somewhat naïve thinking of the north. Douglass makes it sound as if there is a line or fence that ran right across the country where the people on the side seemed to be uneducated about what was happening south of them. The spirituals which Douglass detested so much can also be looked at when using fences to describe the history of African-Americans.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is a spiritual that leaves its meaning up for interpretation, but still makes the point that slaves wanted to cross into a free society. The first way one may interpret this spiritual is by saying it is describing slaves being taken...