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BenitoFinal - 1 James Locke English 214 Professor Salvant...

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James Locke English 214 Professor Salvant February 17, 2008 Perspective Provokes Profundity The most profound literature comes only from a writer who divulges - to the reader - an episode of trials and tribulations that he has encountered and eventually surmounted. In the wake of slavery’s inception, there slave narrative became deeply engrained in the exclusive annals of American literature. Fictional accounts also became popularized and exposed the injustices of slavery in an altogether different manner. Accounts from slaves, such as Frederick Douglass in his autobiography, were the most effective tools of abolitionism. These tales, first-handedly, expose slavery’s devastating effects on the enslaved. The debilitating effects of slavery weren’t limited to the slaves; Melville’s Benito Cereno exposes the crippling effects it can have on the slaveholders. While both modes of storytelling have lasting effects on how the readership considers the social and cultural transgressions brought about by slavery, the most genuine and undiluted perspective is afforded through the slave narrative. Douglass’ eloquent recollection of events is an emotional tour-de-force geared towards exposing the animosities of slavery by forcing the reader to see from his perspective; Melville’s tale, being a freeman, is fictional and he thus cannot capture – or fully empathize for that matter – the unmitigated morbidity of slavery. Douglass’ narrative functions as a progression, regarding his repeated bouts with the injustices of slavery, that revolves around the dehumanization he experiences. He 1
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catalogues various experiences he has under slavery’s yolk – some good, most horrific – in a chronological manner. This method effectively constructs an intelligible context for the readership to simultaneously see through and understand the perspective of the enslaved. From the onset of this particular work, Douglass informs the reader that he – like the overwhelming majority of slaves – is not privy to the most basic staples of an identity. He does not know his birthday, or his age for that matter, and he is kept “[from] mak[ing] any inquiries of [his] master concerning it. [His master] deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit”(Douglass, 47). By opening with such a corrupt notion, punishing humans for their
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