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ERIC Number: ED380812
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1995-Mar-23
Pages: 16
Abstractor: N/A
Reference Count: N/A
Literacy, Orality, and Silence: "Reading" the Exigencies of Oppression in Fredrick Douglass' 1845 "Narrative."
Jones, Donald C.
By focusing on Frederick Douglass' reconsideration of literacy in the 1845 "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," this slave narrative becomes very relevant to students today. This important historical document becomes a powerful tool with which educators can encourage students to confront contemporary, postmodern questions about discursive oppression and individual resistance. As Douglass'"Narrative" demonstrates, slavery requires an absolute hierarchy of privileged literacy reserved for European-Americans and subordinate silence required of African-American slaves. Douglass, however, exposes the false rationale on which this system is based. Students of the "Narrative" should analyze Douglass' subversive use of silence, orality, and literacy, rather than just tracing his apparent pathway to freedom. Douglass's autobiographical self effectively uses silence to resist servitude. To undermine his master's authority, Douglass refuses to obey commands, such as when he declines to sing a hymn during a service. Faced with other exigencies of oppression, Douglass also uses orality to resist his enslavement. After his master prohibits any further instruction, Douglass uses bits of bread and friendly conversation to gain reading lessons from "poor white children." Further, by asserting the inexpressibility of certain experiences, Douglass opposes modernist conceptions of language and literacy. According to modernism, language simply names a person's inevitable reality and literacy encodes and decodes these names. However, Douglass uses the power of language to conceive his own reality. (Contains 26 references and 11 notes.) (TB)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers; Historical Materials
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A