jeudi 31 janvier 2013

Postcolonial approach to “The narrative life of Frederick Douglass"




Postcolonial approach, in fact, is an approach that deals with literary texts that were produced during the period of colonization or as a response to it. Approaching such texts to postcolonial criticism enables us to understand life conditions, social, political, cultural and economic as well. This approach also shows the impact of colonization on the country in general and on individuals in particular. Therefore, Frederick Douglass’ the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave would be analysed under the shadows of Postcolonial Approach, its methods and insights. Chapter 1, 4 and 10 are full of descriptions and confessions that would surely
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is the autobiography of Douglass, his own story of being a slave: Born a slave, lived and was supposed to remain a slave for his whole life; his mother was a slave and his father was unknown --or as he had heard that his master was his father-- his siblings and his grandmother were slaves as well. It is Douglass’s life but it represents the whole community of slaves that were on the plantation of Maryland. It  represents his resistance and the yearning of freedom of himself and their bothers and portrays the cruelty of white community towards the black community.
 On the one hand, chapter 1 is about his childhood. From a postcolonial approach, it is discussing the fact of being born a slave and its outcomes: not knowing the birth day, mother-son relationship --slaves were prohibited from the care and tenderness of their mothers--, also discussed the most inhumane and pitiless practice towards his own flesh and blood children as slaves just because their mothers are slaves.  This chapter also shows some characteristics of slaveholder: being cruel, pitiless, inhumane, and their reputation would be on the way they treat their slaves the more cruelty they exercise, the more known they became.  Douglass gave a strong metaphor in which he refers to slaves as horses; a slave is an animal, treated and seen that way, a brainless, soulless, heartless animal.
Chapter 4, moreover, is devoted to the characters of the most wanted overseers: they should have some potentialities so as to keep their position: they have to be severe, cruel, pitiless, heartless and inhumane: as Douglass put it when describing an overseer –Mr Gore-: “He was cruel enough to inflict the severest punishment, artful enough to descend to the lowest trickery, and obdurate enough to be insensible to the voice of a reproving conscience.”. It also shows how a slave’ life is priceless through narrating three cases in which three slaves --two men and a young girl—were murdered coldly and with no judicial investigation; a slave would pay his life as a price of his disobedience. Worst, the blame would be on the slave who if “he escaped with his life, the other slaves would soon copy the example; the result of which would be, the freedom of the slaves, and the enslavement of the whites.” The killers of those poor slaves did not only escaped punishment but “even the pain of being arraigned before a court for their horrid crime”. Douglass concludes this chapter by a strong statement saying: “It was a common saying, even among little white boys, that it was worth a half- cent to kill a "nigger," and a half-cent to bury one.”
Chapter 10 deals with the concept of religion: Christianity. “I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,--a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,--a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,--and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.” The paradox is that Douglass at day would be a slave, punished and whipped whereas at night “the duty of raising the hymn generally came upon” him; Added to this, the sin of adultery.   In this chapter, Douglass lets his intellectual mind free.  He questions his situation and the possibility of being free.  His being educated un-intendedly though it endangered his life of being slave and his inner peace, it made him resist the established order, resist the masters pressures, and cruelty. He fought against his destiny, not that of Divine but that controlled of the masters; the slaveholders. Douglass in this chapter agreed strongly that education gave him hope that change is a might, and gave him power to face that destiny to seek not only for his freedom but also that of his brothers. Moreover, Douglass also discussed the issue of superstitions among the slaves. They have built a superstitious system so as to believe they would escape punishment and be kindly treated if they carried a ‘root’.  Douglass when fighting against his master had discovered the path to freedom which is resistance: “It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free.” He, furthermore, agreed that slaves had holidays in fact only one holiday: “The days between Christmas and New Year's day are allowed as holidays” and those who would work during those holidays would be regarded as one who rejected the favour of his master. What a favour! Because they did not gave slaves the opportunity to rest, visit their families and to get drunk --willingly or unwillingly-- only, but they “serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.” To make slaves refrain from any rebellious thoughts, slaveholders adopt a mode which is to disgust the slave with freedom, by allowing him- the slave- to see only the abuse of it. The same mode is adopted when food allowance is wanted to be increased.
Other approaches, indeed, would under the postcolonial approach, as well. The Marxist approach would also serve the purpose of defining colonization in Douglass’s story. The social hierarchy, the master, the slaveholder, the seer, and the slaves are shown in his narrative: a hierarchy that empowers white people and enslaves black people, a hierarchy that would give the masters the will and power to inhuman slaves, to hinder their rights of living as a human being let alone their freedom, freedom of speech, health care, food, education and others. Feminist approach, as well, would be applied to this narrative. Female conditions were often discussed from the very beginning. A mother who naturally and by all laws of Nature has the right to up-bring her children, is prevented from it. Douglass’s mother who represents all slave mothers was deprived from that right: “to hinder the development of the child's affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child.” Also, coloured women were used as a machine of reproduction or as Douglass puts it “a breeder”; they were brought just to increase the wealth of the masters: the number of slaves. Women, notwithstanding their high spirit and sentimentalities, are treated as men, cruelly and pitilessly. White women, on the other hand, had lost their kind-heartedness that most women have towards their kind. They torture, whip and kill slaves, men as well as women.  
Personally I am still shocked to have read those lines, those eleven chapters. Though only 3 chapters were assigned, I could not stop. Douglass’ narrative highlights the issue of slavery in America at the 18’s in a delicate way using metaphors, imagery and symbolism. The story, in terms of stylistics, is highly elaborated. It emphasises how could a human being insulted, hurt, tortured, whipped till death and maltreated by another human being, under the cap of religious beliefs --religionists’ slaveholder--, social hierarchy, class superiority. A human being, though being coloured and dark skinned, is made of a soul, a heart and a body, and is born free and remains so till the end of his life but the fact of being dark deprived it from all those rights and put his destiny. He was deprived from all human rights from the very beginning of his life, his freedom, his being educated and he fought for his identity, liberty and freedom. He being an abolitionist resisted the system, master’s oppressions and enslavement. He succeeded in escaping from the arms of slavery.