The Jeremiads by Frederick Douglass Book Review



In the supplementary article "Frederick Douglass and the American Jeremiad," William L. Andrews spoke of how Douglass utilized the structure of the American jeremiad to his advantage when writing his narrative. To begin his article, Andrews speaks of the effort Douglass put forth to appeal to white middle-class readers by adapting his novel into a type of American jeremiad. He addressed how Douglass used the persuasive speaking of the tirade; he shed light on the differences between true and false Christianity and Americanism. Additionally, Andrews believes by concluding his narrative with the difference between the rundown Eastern shore of Maryland and the flourishing coastal town of New Bedford, Douglass celebrates the national dream. Andrews recounts how in the early chapters of the narrative, young Douglass realizes man’s wickedness as he watches his Aunt Hester being whipped. The middle of the novel conveys young Douglass being ensnared by the hopelessness of breaking free from the chains of slavery. The final pages of the narrative depict Douglass choosing to be the voice for all enslaved brethren. Andrews indicates the purpose of Douglass’ tirade is to reveal the uprising against slavery and its perverse un-American profit motive as the process of Americanization of those enslaved. Additionally, Douglass stresses how he prepared himself for freedom by bearing the responsibilities of a freeman when doing freelance work. According to Andrews, not including the details of his escape was an unconventional feature of the narrative. He goes on to explain how, based on the conclusion of the narrative, that Douglass’ opinion was that the high point of a fugitive slave’s life was not his escape to the free states, but him assuming his new status as a free man. Moreover, this article explains how the American jeremiad forced Douglass into an established set of options to illustrate the encounters and ambitions of an American Slave. Douglass speaks of how slavery cannot endure because neither culture nor nature had determined the segregation of whites and blacks. Andrews concludes his article by stating the new responsibilities of Douglass as a jeremiadic autobiographer are that he no longer has just his own story to recount. It is now his duty to preach in a way to destroy the deceitful hierarchies of power that have emerged as an aftereffect of slavery’s distortion of good and evil. Thus, in this supplementary article, Andrews wrote about how Douglass used the format of the American jeremiad to convey his story to the world.

"In the First Place: Making Frederick Douglass and the Afro-American Tradition"

The supplementary article "In the First Place: Making Frederick Douglass and the Afro-American Tradition," written by Deborah E. McDowell, analyzes the effect of cultural and societal norms on Douglass' narrative. McDowell begins her analysis of the narrative by stating how most modern studies on slavery are focused on making the slave a man in accordance with the societal norms of masculinity. She goes on to say how this is partially the reason why Douglass is such a critical and legendary figure in history. Moreover, literary studies on Douglass as “the first'' were partially fueled how revisionist historians portrayed him. McDowell points out how Stanley Elkin’s long disputed novel Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life incited the revisionist mythmaking that defined the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The dispute began with Elkin’s thesis, that accentuated the influence of black male emasculation on slavery, which caused historians to emerge to disprove his data and thesis. One prominent revisionist, John Blassingame, was determined to correct the record to demonstrate that the slave was not half-man and half-child, but fully man. Blassingame mentions the slave’s tendency of shaping their lives based on the cultural standard in his argument. In addition to Blassingame, Deborah White’s argument that putting black women in their rightful feminine place restored the black man’s masculinity was one of the few challenges to the twenty-year-long discussion about the character of a male slave. Furthermore, McDowell lists a few of the events she believed led to Douglass’ fame. The demand for universities to have courses on African and African-American studies, the publishers who took advantage of this demand, and the academic scholars who finished the chain are all a part of the events that further mythologized Douglass. Later in her criticism, she speculates how someone could declare the politics of gender have been concealed by the shortage of nonfeminist explanations of the narrative and by the content of the novel itself. For example, a critic named Francis Foster points out how female narratives never declare rape as the most acute part of their life, while male narratives graphically depict the sexual abuse of female slaves by white men. McDowell discovers this same pattern present in all three of Douglass’ autobiographies. This realization leads her to evaluate that his depiction of female slaves being flogged reveals how his freedom relies on recounting black women’s enslavement. McDowell goes on to explain how critical examination has overlooked Douglass’ role as a contributor to slavery’s abuses and has focused solely on him as a witness. Additionally, she believes Douglass derives pleasure from repeatedly narrating scenes of female slaves being whipped. Later in the article, McDowell believes the purpose of him defeating Covey was to incarnate the association between resistance to power with physical struggle. This sort of view has no success in recognizing that such a fight cannot operate as the beginning and end of the comprehension of power relations. Robert Stepto’s opinion on the discussion of the relation between Douglass’ narrative and the validating texts is that on the surface, the documents seem to be at war with Douglass’ story for authorial control of the narrative. In Douglass’ case, the fight for authorial control was between black and white men. To conclude, McDowell examines how society influenced Douglass when formulating his autobiography.