Frederick Douglass – freedom within confinement

“Having no resources within himself, he was compelled to be the copyist of many, and being such, he was forever the victim of inconsistency.” (Douglass on Captain Auld)

Lack of knowledge robs people of the ability to control. This seems to be one of the great messages Frederick Douglass wants to convey. We see examples of this within both factions in Douglass’s narrative. Slaveholders losing control through the lack of knowledge of themselves (mistress Auld not realising that her once independance is lost in her marriage, and mr Covey’s inability to break Douglass because of his own social vanity) and slaves not taking control because of their lack of knowledge about their masters.

The slaveholders give the slaves holidays in order to keep them calm, stable enough to not cause an uproar. They want to make the slaves “as glad of their ending as of their beginning.” They “disgust the slaves with freedom, by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation,” and as they are tricked into wasting their few days of freedom on just drinking, “there  was little to choose between liberty and slavery.” They might as well be “slaves to man as they are to rum.”

Can we not find a resemblance of this in many free people’s lives nowadays? They go on about with their lives, old as young, longing for the weekend, summer break, vacation, not realising that the presence is escaping their grasp through between their fingers. And once they are there, free from work, free to do what they want, they are unsure of what exactly they are supposed to do. They too often realise that they have either too little or too much time at their disposal. So what do they do? They do what is expected of them: drink, party, celebrate, relax. But expected by whom exactly, other people? From where did they get this expectation? Soon they realise that this lifestyle is very taxing on the body, mind, and soul. It takes its toll on the body and mind to be in a state of constant rewarding, and the soul can never flourish in such a chaotic condition. Therefore it is not surprising that these people, the very people who would show little to know commitment in what they do on normal weekdays, eventually begin longing for work and with it control, in the last days/hours of their freedom.

Now, compare this to Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp”. This bare sound without any restrictions is the culmination of the whole poem and serves as a less refined, but no less striking, statement against society. It is after all a form of expressing oneself, and here Whitman is declaring that he is not paying attention to social norms.

The slaves and slaveholders, and many free people today, do not possess the ability to make this yawp: they might meet all the physical requirements for creating a scream, or a yelp, or an action, but it is the mind that is falling behind, as it is the lacking knowledge of self-expressing that is holding them back.

“I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.”

This is what Frederick Douglass is realising, when his master tells him that he should not read, and when he sees the conceit that is rotting away all the people with power over him can be so easily exploited for someone resenting the sickly clutch of social vanity. With this newfound knowledge that brings him up to the same level of his masters, and then even beyond, he can cast of the chains of slavery. His days are no longer in a cloudy haze of chaotic condition, and the months, days, and hours until next break are no longer counted; his mind is no longer displaced in an unsteady future, because it is set in the presence, and consequently, the presence does no longer escape his grasp. And so he might continue under the confinement of other people, but it is only temporary, but even if it was not, he could no longer be a slave to his own limitations enforced by his surroundings. His freedom is no longer defined by outside observerstions, as it is rather a fire within him that is rekindled by expression of defiance: a yawp. 

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Emerson – Whitman

“Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier.”

This seems to fit quite well into the narrative of Whitman’s, as he himself lists a whole catalogue of professions and common folk among the American people of his time. And, just like Emerson opines that man is all, Whitman proclaims that he does not “ask how the wounded man feel, he becomes the wounded man”.

Emerson’s notion of that man is all is of course not a suggestion that we are all the same, but rather that we are all created equal, and that which separates us is our experiences–the process in the making of a man. In that sense, everything that is and has been created by humans are relatable, but not always through the idea, but rather through the process of its creation. We find this concept in Whitman’s thoughts. As he does not want to know of what the other feel, he would rather feel it by his own measure, share the experience, and through that build a perspective. Whitman does not want a summary of a life, he wants to know the main themes, put strings between all of them, see as they build up to a culmination as life transpires up till the current moment. Neither Emerson or Whitman want to merely know, they want to understand.

“Nature then becomes to him the measure of his attainments.”

Now, this notion shares close ties with Whitman’s fondness with nature and, of course, his obsession of wanting to get naked with everyone. Because that is what started all of this, this seemingly never-ending poem of celebration of oneself.

Rather than learning by seeing, Whitman suggests to learn through other senses, senses that you would normally not use in certain situations. Furthermore, in the poem we are presented with many situations were touching and smelling are used rather than observing, instinct is preferred over analysing. These situations then becomes past experiences that Whitman can meditate on while loafing. And there we have it. Experience extends knowledge, according to Whitman, which Emerson, I am certain, would not refute.

The Name of the Wind

As of “a narrative where an experience of nature transforms the protagonist”, I am going to leave you with my thoughts about the book that made me for the first time appreciate the English language and the art of writing, namely The Name of the Wind.

 

In this story of a talented boy of the Edema Ruh, Kvothe soon finds himself at the brink of madness when his troupe of travelling performers, including his parents, are murdered by a mysterious group that he later on would suspect of being the mythical “Chandrian”. Without any place to go, and hundreds of miles to the nearest town, our protagonist takes his flight to the woods, with his father’s lute as the only belonging from his former life. This he would practice on, hours on end every day, while keeping himself alive by using the hunting skills he had acquired by a master hunter that once travelled with his troupe. But the memories of his parents’ bloody corpses at his feet would soon take its toll of this young boy, and not seeing a living thing, except for a few rabbits, for months, would eventually make his mind fall into a sort of “safe mode”. In this mode his rational mind shuts off, leaving his instincts at the steering wheel. At this state he knows only of two things: surviving and playing the lute. Since his mind is protecting him, he cannot stop, not even when his fingers start to bleed, not even when a string breaks off of his lute, not even when he nearly freezes to death under the cold nights, not until he has somewhat processed this horrible experience. Eventually he is lifted out of this state, when a third string breaks off, which would leave a scar on his arm, and leaving him with only four strings left. It was now impossible to keep on playing. At this time many months had gone by, and his mind had yet to fully process the memories, but he was atleast ready to put the pictures of his dead parents in the back off his mind so that he now could focus on getting back to society and to, more importantly, find his parents’ murderers.

The Kvothe stepping out the secluded forest has changed dramatically from the boy fleeing into the forest. This boy shows a more animalistic side, lacking basic social skills, struggling with words, and avoiding other people, all of which he only a year ago sought out and embraced, and exceeded all boys in his age. But, in these hazy months he also learned how to live by himself, and grew accustomed to a life in solitude. Moreover, he discovered a new feeling beyond sadness and despair, a true life experience that he would carry around for the entirety of his life and help him manage future horrendous incidents.