This paper is basically a discussion of various ways in which oppression is seen justified or is made to appear a normal way of life to the oppressed based on the Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass by Douglass “a narrative written by the man who was once a slave and later got freedom and went against all odds and ascended to the white house” This book was written published in 1845. Also discussion will include experiences and ideas from the William Blake’s; poem of innocence and poem of experience “Chimney Sweeper” first published in 1789. The poem speaks of ‘Chimney Sweeps’ who endure un-favorable working and living conditions in the hands of their masters as well as the society at large which views them as being sub-human creatures or outcasts. This paper therefore intends to identify experiences and ideas that are used by the two writers to justify oppression and the ways in which the oppressed have been made to adapt to the oppressive ways.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
The author describes the appearance of Colonel Lloyd Plantation as a country village but contrasts it with the business-like farm operations performed which he terms them as being mechanical and all were done by the slaves for example, coopering the blacksmithing, cartwrighting the shoemaking and mending, weaving and grain grinding (Douglass, 1845). The operations mentioned task are hard-labored jobs and appear oppressive to the slaves who performs them. Since they are slaves, they can be able to do any kind of work they don’t have freedom to refuse. In contrast to the serene countryside, Douglass portrays the oppressive atmosphere of the rural plantation, where slaves are closely watched, harshly punished, and treated as property (Garrison, 1997). Their masters used their poverty to justify their oppression as slave had nothing to help themselves with thus they had to work in this jobs to earn themselves a living.
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Another idea of oppression, which Douglass elaborates, is when he says that masters/slave owners (Captain Anthony who lines up slaves alongside livestock and values them in the same manner. This is a form of oppression in that humans are treated as animals and valued as their masters properties. This kind of valuation is very humiliating and dehumanizing act where humans are to have value of animals.
The author further develops this idea of oppression by showing how slave owners keep changing their slaves frequently, for instance Douglas was under the ownership of Captain Anthony, then Lucretia and Thomas Auld then Hugh Auld and then back to Thomas Hauld. This is a form of oppression where slaves/humans are being owned just like any other property and transferred without considering the impacts it has effect on their marriages, facilities and friendships. Douglass was forced to separate with his great friends who had helped him learn to write. Here slave’s value was the main reason of shifting ownership and this is what was used to justify the treatment they received like lining them with livestock.
Douglass’ grandmother who was very elderly was abandoned by her new owners as slaves are valued by the amount of work they are able to do. Despite her old age, she was not able to get freedom from her former master despite the fact that she spends her entire life lovingly tending Anthony’s children (Douglass, 1845). This is a form of oppression, which Douglass’ grandmother had to get used to for her entire life of slavery. Their masters used their old age to justify the mistreatment they bestowed to the old and less productive slaves.
Slaves were able to adapt to their way of life by engaging themselves in singing, which the author describes as being rude, loud, long, deep, and incoherent. Douglass says that these songs breaths the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Through singing slaves were able to drown their sorrows and assume they are living a life free from their current tribulations.
The author also portrays an oppressive form of lifestyle where children were denied the privilege of growing in the presence of their parents, Douglas complains that he never recollects a time when he saw his mother during the day except for night times when his mother would get him to sleep and go to work before he wakes up. Such kind of life is oppressive to both the child and the parents as it disintegrates family ties, which is considered a basic human right. The fact that parent would do anything to survive they had to compromise their families and that is what the oppressors used to justify their ways.
Slave owner Auld justifies his oppressive actions by being religious and claiming that he was not born with slave but acquired them with marriage. In addition, he is convinced that other adoptive slave masters are notoriously the worst masters as compared to him. Douglass and other slaves work in Auld’s kitchen but their master denies them food despite the fact that food is wasting in the storehouse. This forces them to steal or beg from neighbors in order to survive. (Douglass,1845).
Food provision is used by the slave owners to get slaves adapt to the oppressive life of the day, for instance Douglas describes a situation where he is denied food by his master Auld’s and devises his way to being lend to another master Covey who he says gives his slaves enough food thus Douglas prefers working for the master who provides him with food and Covey has exploited this in convincing his slaves to working in his fields. (Fulkerson et al 2001).
Slave owners also use punishment to justify there oppressive ways for example the author narrates that his master Covey tore his clothes and whipped him repeatedly when he failed to respond to his orders to him to receive punishment after failing to guide the uncooperative oxen who also most killed him. Covey continues to whip him almost weekly for that supposed single mistake. This clearly illustrates that masters used punishment as a scapegoat to oppress their salves.
Slave masters uses religion and excessive piety to cover their oppressive behaviours and to convince themselves that they were faithful men. Douglass says that Covey behaves deceitfully to his religion, as he is adulterous and hires a married man to sleep every night with his ‘Breeder’ slave Caroline in order to produce more slaves for him to own. (Douglass,1845). Such acts of adultery is oppressive to the slaves but religion is used reduce the degree of the vicious act.
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Slave masters use stage-managed holidays to make their slaves adapt to their oppressive behaviours. For instance they often give their slaves some time-off s/holidays especially during Christmas and new-year eve where they encourage them to work hard for themselves and to stay drunk .This makes freedom an unappealing experience to them thus convincing them that their there is nothing good with being free.
William Blake, The Chimney Sweeper
In William’s Blake ‘chimney sweeper’, the element of innocence is being exploited by the masters of the sweepers to oppress the sweepers, and the oppressed are not even aware that they are being oppressed. For instance, the narrator says that his father sold him even before hi tongue could cry ‘weep! weep! weep!’. This implies that his father sold him because he was still too young and naÃ¯ve to understand what was happening around him (Blake, 2010).
In addition, the masters of the ‘chimney sweepers’ uses poverty of the workers to justify there actions which lead to oppressive lifestyle for them. For example, they sweep chimneys while naked to so that their masters would not have to replace their clothing in the reason that they wore out at workplace. These masters blame ‘chimney sweepers’ level of poverty for their current conditions, otherwise concealing their inhuman actions against the sweeps.
In the ‘chimney sweeper’ the speaker is convinced through the dream that as long as he remains obedient and faithful to God it doesn’t matter what circumstances he is in (deplorable lifestyle), things will turn out alright (Blake, 2010). Such naivety has been used by their masters to justify their oppressive deeds against them because they are contented that the ‘sweeps’ will not complain to them.
In the Williams poem of ‘chimney sweeper’ religion or Christianity has been to justify the speaker parent actions of allowing him to work in the sweeps thinking that he is happy with it. In this, the speaker paints church, as a reason for him being a sweeper and it’s responsible for all his tribulations (Hernandez, 2010). He even blames the church and other institutions for church for doing nothing to improve his current situation.
The idea of experience has allowed the speaker to adapt to his oppressive life as a ‘chimney sweeper’ because he believes that his present oppression is as a result of him not having appreciated his childhood privileges well. This idea has then been utilized by his masters to oppress him even more because they know that he has accepted his fate and would probably work without nagging even if the working conditions are inhuman.
Based on the discussion of the various ways that the masters of power or slave owners use to justify there in human actions against this vulnerable group of people, it’s clear that slavery was more of a psychological problem rather than physical one. Slaves were ‘forced’ to believe that they were the chief cause of the problems they were suffering and hence had to learn to live with it without complaining. They had been ‘stage-managed’ to believing that their masters were right in treating them the way they were oppressing them. The slave owners therefore saw nothing wrong in mistreating their slaves and hence the continued practice of the vice in the society.
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