Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Venture Smith

The narrative written by Venture Smith begins with a preface that describes to the reader how great of a man Venture was. In the preface, Venture is compared to the likes of Ben Franklin and George Washington, even though he is a slave. The preface continues to say that had Venture been given a proper education, he would have been an "honor" to human nature. I like to think that Venture became the great man that he was because he didn't receive a proper education. His many journey's in life helped shape him into the man he became.

Chapter one begins by informing the reader that Venture is the son of the prince of the Dukandarra tribe. Although polygamy is accepted in the tribe, Venture's father goes against normal customs and marries another woman without consulting his first wife before doing so. This causes the first wife, who is Venture's mother, to leave Venture's father and take Venture and his two siblings with her. During their travels, Venture's mother solely takes care of Venture and his siblings, showing Venture how to be strong and independent. The group continues to travel until they reach a large farm house at which Venture is left. Immediately Venture is put to work herding sheep. However, Venture is less of a slave (I was unable to decipher if the farmer was black or white) and more of an "only son" to the owner of the farm.

Eventually, Venture's father sends for Venture and he returns home from his brief stay on the farm, only to find that his mother and father have reunited and worked things out. Trouble soon begins again as Venture's father is told of a local army, instigated and fortified by white men, that is demanding money and livestock as well as wreaking havoc on local tribes. This army reminds me of the Revolutionary United Front in Africa. The RUF is a local militia that started out benign, but soon began to wreak havoc all through Africa. Anyways, Venture's tribe is forced to flee from the army, but is soon captured. Venture watches as his father is tortured to death, and then he, along with the rest of his people, is sold into slavery.

Venture is sold to his slave-owner, Mr. Mumford. Venture's first test of loyalty comes when Mumford bestows upon him a set of keys and tells him to give them to no one unless Mr. Mumford gives him the authority to do so. Mr. Mumford's father asks Venture for the keys repeatedly, but Venture refuses much to his master's delight. Venture continues his life of slavery for thirteen years, performing arduous tasks for his master and marrying another slave named Meg in the meantime, until he is talked into running away by another slave named Heddy. Venture, Heddy, and two other companions successfully flee, heading down the Mississippi river. At a resting point in the journey, Heddy manages to steal all of the clothes the slaves brought with them and runs away. However, Heddy does not get far and is caught. Once Heddy is caught, Venture decides they should return to their masters. Upon their return, Heddy is put into custody while the other three men are received warmly and put back to work. Not long after that, Venture is sold and separated from his wife and daughter. Yet, in the last two lines of the narrative Venture speaks of all of the money he has earned from side-jobs and working. Is this money enough to buy his freedom and possibly even enough to buy his wife and daughters?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ben Franklin

I found Ben Franklin's autobiography to be very inspirational. Not only was he an awesome rags-to-riches story, but Ben Franklin was an ideal human being everyone could learn something from. Franklin's intellect is first shown  when he says he wouldn't want to live his life over, just "correct some faults of the first" (Chapter 1, Paragraph 2). I think we have all thought the same thing at one point or another in our lives. Since we obviously cannot go back and change things in our lives, Franklin states the next best thing for him to do is write his life down. This way, not only can Franklin recollect on his life, but he can also reflect and more importantly teach others how to live based on his life. Ben goes on to tell the reader pretty straightforwardly that he will be vain in his writing at times. This reminds me of the vanity of the speaker in Sot-Weed, but at least Ben acknowledges it. The true difference between the speaker in Sot-Weed and Ben Franklin is that Ben is vain only to convey a point. After he tells the reader he may be somewhat vain, he immediately humbles himself by thanking God for his life.
We are then introduced to Ben and find him sick on an arduous journey to start a new life in Philadelphia. During his travels, Ben, much like the speaker in Sot-Weed, is questioned of his motives for leaving. When he is searching for a place to stay, Ben's run-down appearance cause him to be suspected of being a run-away servant. After a few days of staying in local inns and homes, Ben finds a boat that takes him further towards Philadelphia. Upon getting off, Ben gives the people he rode with on the boat money for the voyage. This can be seen as an altruistic gesture on his part, but I question it when he says, " A man being sometimes more generous when he has but a little money than when he has plenty, perhaps thro' fear of being thought to have but little" I think this means that Ben gave his money in order to uphold his reputation that he is not a poor peasant or runaway slave.
In Chapter 2, we are introduced to Ben attempting to buy bread from the local bakery. However, this does not go very smoothly as the bakery uses foreign portion sizes and names of bread. Eventually Ben buys three very large rolls and makes his way around the new town. After eating one of his rolls, Ben certainly performs an altruistic gesture by giving the other two rolls to a mother and her child. Ben continues to make his way through the new city, and when he asks about a new place to lodge, he again is questioned about being a runaway. It seems this happened a lot in Old America. We learn that Ben is searching for a printing job and eventually becomes an apprentice of sorts to the two local printers, although it is obvious that Ben thinks he is better than both men. In paragraph seven, Ben analyzes both men and states, "These two printers I found poorly qualified for their business." Slowly but surely, Ben begins establishing a new, successful life in Philadelphia.
Chapter 6 was the best of the chapters in my opinion. Basically the majority of the first part of the chapter are letters from Abel James and Ben Vaughan, respectively. In two very long-winded letters, both men commend Ben for his work and for his interest in the importance of the youth, and also implore him to write his autobiography. Paragraphs (roughly) 9-11 were the most interesting portion of the autobiography I read. Throughout the reading, I began to note that I had no idea Ben Franklin was so religious! However, upon reading Chapter 6, the reader learns that Ben is not so hung up on religion as he is about being a truly good person. For instance, Ben even "conceiv'd the bold...project of arriving at moral perfection." Ben continues by telling us about his thirteen virtues and even continues on to outline a plan in order to obtain moral perfection. This was Ben's model of being a good American, but also a good human being. Although Ben says he "fell short of [perfection]," the process made him a "better and happier man." We all could learn something from this. If everyone acted in the way Ben outlines here, the world would be a better place. To me, Ben's quest for moral perfection reminds me a lot of Buddhism/Hinduism, and even of the book Siddhartha, in which the main character is on a quest to find internal peace. I also truly respect Ben's views on religion. People tend to get so caught up the intricacies of certain religions, they often forget to be good people, which is Ben's chief goal in life.

The Sot-Weed Factor

The Sot-Weed Factor is a poem in which the speaker is traveling to America in order to begin a new life. However, the speaker quickly finds out this new life is not at all what he had in mind. I am curious about one of the first lines of the poem. The speaker states, "With heavy heart, concern'd that I/Was forc'd my Native soil to fly." Am I correct in assuming this means the speaker was required to leave his hometown to come to America? If so, I wonder what the reason was. Throughout the poem, it is made evident to the reader that the speaker thinks he is superior to everyone. For instance, the speaker is immediately critical of the planters when he first sees them, as evidenced in these lines:  "Figures so strange, no God design'd,/To be a part of Humane Kind..." I find this to be a bit harsh for the speaker to say such things about people he has never met before. The speakers arrogance is also showcased when he asks the peasant who is herding sheep if he can stay with him. The peasant begins to ask the speaker questions such as why he ran away. The speaker takes great offense to this because he considers himself above this indentured servitude and draws his sword on the peasant. If the line I questioned above is correct (the one stating the speaker was forced to leave his home), why does the speaker take such offense to the question?
Also interesting, the speaker seems to come to the new world close-minded. He immediately rejects the land and the Natives. For instance, when the speaker talks about the land he describes it as, "Planted at first, when the Vagrant Cain...he hither run." Basically, I think these lines state that this new land is the land of the devil and a harbor for fugitives. In his detest for the Natives, the speaker disrespects the Indians canoe, calling it a "trough for a swine" and standing in the canoe instead of sitting. Finally, the speaker demonstrates how unappreciative he is when the speaker stays the night with a local planter and is given dinner. The speaker speaks lowly of the food, stating, "Which scarce a hungry dog would lap." All of these people have done nothing but altruistic favors and try to help the speaker, and all he does is complain.
I think it is ironic that America is now the "melting-pot." So many different and diverse cultures, religions, races, etc. make up America's population today. The speaker in The Sot-Weed Factor comes to America to start a new life, but does little more than come with his nose in the air and fingers pointed, bringing his arrogance and superiority from Great Britain with him.

Eric Kosco