Toni Morrison vs Frederick Douglass

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Kwani Lunis
False Control
A 5th grade student is sitting down to read their American history textbook. As they read they learn about this legal form of slave labor, and think to themselves “it was bad, but not that bad”. There are always two sides to every story, but sometimes one side may shed more light than the other. Frederick Douglass’ 1845 self-titled narrative is one of those other sides. From a mostly objective perspective, he is able to tell the story of the blood, tears, and labor that was put into building this great nation, the United States. More than a century later, Toni Morrison, the great African American novelist, publishes Beloved. Her novel supplements the story of Frederick Douglass by adding an emotional and almost maternal insight to the horrors of slavery. While Douglass gave the perspective of a young boy growing over time, he somehow is able to make the story of his own life objective to readers on both sides of the slavery argument. Morrison on the other hand brings her own fictional character to life in a slightly different world of slavery, bringing the opposite maternal, feminine side to the story. With their great differences, these two works are able to go hand in hand, while leading one on a journey to truth. The mention of slavery usually brings to mind the idea of the abuse and injury that came along with it. While the obvious physical ownership of another human being is a great factor, one must not forget the psychological control that seized the minds of these slaves. With time the physical wounds can eventually heal, but the psychological trauma can have a long term effect on both the individual and those around them. In Frederick Douglass’ narrative the first time we see him show any form of emotion is when he sees his beautiful, aunt Hester getting a beating from the master. He describes the experience as the “the entrance to the hell of slavery… a most terrible spectacle” (Douglass 28). A young boy associating this brutal act to hell emphasizes the depth of impact the experience held on his mind. In most religious backgrounds, hell connoted as a horrible place that no one would ever want to end up. This saying the same for the young Douglass implies how the physical brutality on the Aunt generated a vivid imprint on this young boy’s imagination. On the fictional end of the spectrum, in Beloved, we have Sethe and the boys living at “Sweet Home Plantation” almost oblivious to the fact that they were in fact slaves. We have the five “Sweet Home Men”, who were called so by the owner Mr. Garner himself who would brag to the other farmers saying, “My niggers is men every one of em. Brought em thataway, raised em that- away” (Morrison 12). Mr. Garner is declaring that yes, he paid for human beings, but since he trained them right, just as one trains animals, they do in fact act as men would. Paradoxically, these same “men”, whom he trained, were abusing cows just for sexual relief, just as animals would. As long as Mr. Garner was in charge and gave his slaves a false sense of humanity, there was no reason for him to not trust that his slaves would do whatever he said. He didn’t have to physically beat them because the mind control he held was their mental whip. In a sense, Mr. Garner’s method of slavery played with their heads to the point that they themselves would feel bad about not appreciating all the “good” he was doing for them. When Baby Suggs’ son Halle buys her freedom, Mr. Garner is bringing her to the house of his friends, who would in turn give her whatever help she needed. In her freedom, Mr. Garner is still marketing her, declaring her “the best cobbler you ever seen” (Morrison 171), as well as a wonderful cook. His conscious sees no wrong in what he does and gets defensive when the Bodwins explain that they don’t agree with any kind of slavery. He then goes on to interrogate Baby Suggs as if to prove that his slavery is different from another: Tell em, Jenny. You live any...
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