Metaphor, Anecdote, and Repetition in Works of Douglass and Morrison
Many relationships in life consist of a balancing act between people in opposing roles: submissive and dominant. Sometimes, like with a parent and their child, the dominant person is there to prevent the submissive one from making bad choices so they can become better individuals. These relationships, though occasionally beneficial, are often abused and misused. White slaveowners and slavery advocates accepted the idea that white people were supposed to be dominant to African-Americans, claiming they were trying to “help” them by enslaving them. This “help” was just an excuse for their racism. This superiority complex developed because the most read book, the Bible, says they are. It states, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Ephesians 6:5). These fallacies supported and justified their racism, prejudice, and cruelty towards the African-American race through the medium of slavery. However, many people, like Abolitionists, did not accept this idea. Many challenged it and often posed questions that challenged the legitimacy of this system, thus advocating equality between African-Americans and whites. Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison, both black writers, both argue for equality and against slavery. However, Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison both use metaphor, but differ in their respective use of anecdote and repetition to destroy the defenses of slavery and argue for African Americans equality.
Douglass argues for equality by showing how slavery is destructive for both slaves and their owners through metaphor to disprove slave logic. Slave logic claims that slavery is mutually beneficial for both slaves and whites because white men need workers, and slavery protects slaves from making bad choices. Douglass, who began his life on a plantation and experienced brutality from slavery, did not agree with this. He was eventually placed with a family in Baltimore, and the woman who owned him was originally kind because she had never owned a slave before. Once introduced to slavery, she changed entirely because, “The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands . . . cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage . . . and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon” (Douglass 960). Douglass uses poison as a metaphor for power by saying slavery, like a poison, is destroying his mistress from the inside and turning her into someone slaves consider a demonic harbinger of pain and suffering. Douglass’ metaphor makes the reader question the legitimacy of slavery’s mutual benefits because here, slavery is hurting the slaveowner by making her inhuman. Douglass conveys that slavery demonizes the owner and consequently causes them to bring terror and pain to slaves. Through metaphor, he argues not by saying why African-Americans are equal, but by exposing the reader to the lapse in logic people use to justify slavery. After questioning the logic, the reader concludes that slavery is wrong because they understand its universally destructive effects. Douglass effectively argues for equality by creating a question which prompts the reader to see the distortion that is slavery, causing them to no longer support it. They are left with no option but to think no one should own another person and feel equality for African-Americans should be a necessary and expected part of society. Douglass’ arguments that disarm commonly held slave logic influence these readers to come to coinciding conclusions.
Toni Morrison, like Douglass, crafts metaphors to argue for equality and slavery’s negative effects on African Americans and whites to combat slave logic. Despite growing up post-emancipation, Morrison was exposed to issues of racism and white supremacy. When describing post-civil war society, she says, “White people believed . . . under every dark skin was a jungle. . .screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way . . . they were right. . . . But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place. . . . It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. . . .It spread . . . until it invaded the whites who had made it. . . . Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own” (Morrison 208). Morrison metaphorically compares both African-Americans and whites to ‘screaming baboons’ who are hungry for blood and live in a jungle. Here, Morrison calls both African Americans and whites savage, which stems from the slavery whites perpetuate. Slavery has made the African- Americans savage and uncivilized, as agreed upon by Morrison stating they were right, and has made the whites as savage as they think the African-Americans are. She describes slavery as making whites worse than they wanted to be and making African-Americans savage enough to be hungry for white blood. This goes against the same idea Douglass argues against that claims slavery was desirable to all involved. Both authors show it’s detrimental to everyone involved and each argue for equality by pointing that out to readers using metaphor and forcing them to question that logic. The reader realizes slavery cannot be beneficial to anyone, all it does is destroy the people it touches and pushes them to be savage and animalistic. Due to Douglass and Morrison, they will discredit slave logic and the institution of slavery. Both of these authors’ arguments are effective because they each convinced people to urge for equality rather than slavery through metaphor. These negative comparisons are the reason readers agree with the authors because it makes them see the failures on pro-slavery logic.
While these authors do similar things to argue for the same idea, they occasionally differ in their methods. Douglass argues for equality by compelling readers to question the ethics of slavery using an anecdote. Douglass grows up as a slave and his terrible conditions led him to question the institution that enslaved him. Douglass shares one of his questions by stating, “The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege” (Douglass 946). This anecdote sits in the mind of the reader, and the more they think about it, the more Douglass’s confusion becomes the object of their questions. His confusion leads the reader to question why exactly Douglass didn’t deserve to know his age and whether there even was a legitimate reason. Here, Douglass shows the most fundamental of reasons not to agree with slavery: It discriminates with no real reason or purpose. This sets a reader on the path towards accepting Douglass’ own argument for equality. Douglass, through anecdote, effectively advocates for equality in a way Morrison does not. He tells his story from the point of view of a child, a symbol of innocence. Unlike Morrison, whose story is mostly from an adults point of view, this advocates for equality by putting it on the most basic, relatable, and individual level. Douglass efficiently leads the reader to take a more individual look at the situation. Looking at an individual instead of a large group of people makes the reader focus on how that story makes them feel while making the argument more personal and easier to connect to. This simple, short story causes the reader to question the ethical aspect of slavery by showing it discriminates without reason. This method of storytelling effectively convinces the reader to come to the conclusion Douglass has been trying to get them to; Slavery is nonsensical, unjustifiable, inexcusable, and equality for African-Americans is the only moral option to choose.
Even when arguing the same idea, Douglass uses an entirely different style than Morrison. Morrison, in contrast to Douglass, argues for equality through a more communal approach and prompts the reader to question the ethics of slavery through her use of repetition. The characters in Beloved, despite living in post-civil war US, go through many struggles involving the residual effects of slavery. They can’t understand why they had to go through so much pain and why it still haunts them every moment. One day in regards to these residual effects, Paul D asks Stamp Paid how much he has to take, and Stamp Paid tells him he has to take as much as he can. In response, Paul D pleads, “ Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” (Morrison 247) Through her repetition, Morrison is more direct than Douglass which is effective because it forces readers to question slave logic and they can’t miss the question and conclusions Douglass intends to lead the reader to using a short anecdote. This makes the question stand out and resonate with the reader. The fundamental question of “why” fully encompasses the issue of slavery.The context of it is Paul D and Stamp Paid talking about the effects of slavery. This question could seemingly be told from multiple African-Americans negatively affected by slavery and haunted by its effects, hence the repetition. This communal idea, in contrast to the idea of individual experience given by Douglass, causes the reader to think about the consequences of slavery on a group of people. The question will lead the reader to recognize how unethical slavery is because of the continued inhumane mental and physical torture it inflicts on African-Americans that no human should have to endure. In this way, Morrison is effective in a different way than Douglass is while still leading the reader to conclude that equality is the only acceptable option. Humans are naturally inquisitive, and with that comes a desire to have their questions answered. Using their natural inquisitiveness is a powerful tool to support any claim. All it takes is one simple question to entirely change someone’s view on a subject. Morrison and Douglass both effectively utilize this tool so people agree with their side of the argument.
Morrison and Douglass argue for the same thing by tearing down the same ideas, but with different techniques such as metaphor, repetition, and anecdote, to tackle the individual and communal effects of slavery in order to promote equality. The effectiveness of these various techniques can be argued, but it cannot be disputed that they each can cause the reader to change their opinion when used effectively. This technique of provoking questions to make a change is used today for the same reasons Morrison and Douglass used it. Race inequality is still an issue. In 2011, the median income of black families was 59% of those for white families. In Chicago, Blacks are systemically kept down. They live in poor neighborhoods and go to terrible public schools funded by taxes from families in poverty. This continued issue of racial equality that Morrison and Douglass fight for is still trying to gain awareness through political cartoons and various media people are still using the same techniques, as well as different ones such as satire and hyperbole, to advocate for equality. This will not stop until there is a mass realization of the racial inequality in the country. Douglass, and then Morrison, started the campaign for equality between African-Americans and whites but it is nowhere near being finished because after over 100 years the issue still pervades despite their efforts.
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