Monday, September 26, 2011

Huck Finn 1-3

                The story of Huckleberry Finn starts out by Huck telling us that he and Tom Sawyer found $6,000 worth of gold that a band of robbers stole. With the help of Judge Thatcher, Huck put his money in the bank where it earns a dollar a day interest (quite a lot of money for that time!). Right from the start we can see Huck is no ordinary boy as he is rich beyond belief and goes on these adventures. He now lives with the Widow Douglas who vows to “sivilize” him, something that Huck wants no part of. Along with the history of his adventure, Huck speaks of wanting to smoke. I know Huck is a boy, but exactly how old is he? Chapter one ends as Huck is reunited with Tom Sawyer.
                Chapter 2 begins with the boys roaming the yard mischievously. During their escapade, we are introduced into Miss Watson’s slave, Jim, who hears the boys sneaking around and comes to investigate the noise he heard. Jim eventually falls asleep, and Tom takes Jim’s hat off and puts it in a tree to play a trick on him. When Jim wakes, he thinks the unexplained moving of his hat had to be witchcraft. Jim is a firm believer in superstition and luck, this being the first example we are shown. Next, we are introduced to the group of boys who are to be known as “Tom Sawyer’s Gang,” The gang has a number of fantastic rules, all established by Tom. The members all must take an oath of secrecy, and whoever breaks the oath “must have his throat cut,” and anyone who causes harm to anyone in the gang must be killed along with their family and have a cross hacked into their chests. The gang’s order of business is “…only robbery and murder” according to Tom because it’s “…in the books.” Here we have a group of boys, probably no older than ten, talking about murdering and robbing people. After talking briefly in class, I think this is Twain’s first attempt to show us that being literate and educated does not always translate to being smart. Tom’s visions are incredibly whimsical, but the boys all go along with what he says simply because he has read many books (which seem to all be works of fiction). This reminds me of two things:  first, it reminds me of people I know who are book smart and not common-sense smart, which are two very different things (although this idea is relatively and not directly applicable to the topic); second, it reminds me of our discussion of mob mentality. Solely because one person (Tom) appears to be educated, the other boys place him in a superior position than they and go along with all of his ideas (further shown when Tommy Barnes falls asleep, wakes up scared and cries, and all the boys call him a cry-baby). All it takes is one person who seems superior to take a leadership role and everyone falls behind him.
                Chapter 3 begins with the introduction of religion in the story. Miss Watson tells Huck to pray every day and he will get everything he wants. Huck is confused at Miss Watson’s advice to pray for other people, thinking solely about material things (Deacon Winn’s money, the widow’s silver snuff-box) and that there is no benefit for Huck himself. This reminds me of Kohlberg’s stages of development; especially stage 2 (what’s in it for me?). This is the beginning of us watching Huck’s character mature and develop. We next are given a brief introduction to Huck’s father, who hasn’t been around for a year, and whom Huck is not fond of.  Again, we are shown the boys playing robbers, only this time, Huck begins to question Tom Sawyer. When the boys are looking for the diamonds, Arabs, and elephants Tom claims are present and find nothing, Huck begins to argue with Tom. Tom claims that a magician and genies were hiding the diamonds, Arabs and elephants from the boys. Huck counters by questioning the genies origin and validity, and wonders why the enemies do not use the genies for their benefit instead of duping the boys. This is just another example of Tom’s fanciful ideas and imagination, and is a glimpse at the levelheadedness that Huck possesses.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Frederick Douglass-What to the Slave is the Fourth of July

                Frederick Douglass’s What to the Slave is the Fourth of July is a work that speaks about American pride, patriotism, slavery, and the hypocrisy of America. Douglass begins rather slowly in my opinion, building up the American fervor for liberty and patriotism. He talks about America gaining independence from Britain, highlighting and praising the forefathers of America. After building up the audience and America, Douglass then goes on to slam them. He says repeatedly that America is hypocritical because it claims to give liberty to everyone, but refuses to give it to slaves. Douglass gives multiple examples in his work. For one, he compares Americans to the children of Jacob, claiming they are living under the exemplary shadow of their forefathers much like the children of Jacob lived under the shadow of Abraham’s. He also gives multiple examples in the paragraph on page 17, including, “You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America.”
                Douglass’s arguments reminded me of Stowe and Cartwright (I believe). Douglass reminded me of Stowe because in the Story of Two Altars, Stowe gives the same example of unjust liberty and how it is not fairly distributed. Paragraph 3 on page 15 reminds me of Cartwright because Douglass challenges the American church, saying that if the church opposed slavery, it wouldn’t exist.
The second paragraph on page 9 sticks out to me. In it, Douglass explains why blacks are equal to whites. He gives examples of all the ways black people contribute to society, including, “planting and reaping…building ships…reading, writing…moving, acting, thinking…living in families as husbands, wives and children, and…worshipping the Christian’s God…” Yet, even among all these attributes, which sound like pretty normal things, blacks are still considered inferior to whites.
One final thing I found interesting were all of the Bible verses and references to God opposing slavery. It seems like a lot of stories we’ve read have incorporated the same arguments. This time, however, it was almost as if Douglass was flipping the tactic on slaveholders. We learned that slaveholders used verses from the Bible to falsely condone slavery, while Douglass uses the tactic in opposition of slavery.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stowe--The Two Altars

                The Two Altars are two short stories written by Harriet Beecher Stowe depicting two completely different lifestyles. The first story is written in 1776 and tells the story of the Ward family. The father of the family is away at war, fighting for the country. This brings up the main point of the story and of the time, which is that liberty is the most important thing in life. The story starts with Grace and Dick playing outside. Dick is emulating his father and making a shrine towards liberty. We later learn that two commissioners are coming to pick up items to send to the soldiers. The family is willing to give up just about anything for the soldiers:  grandma gives up her wedding blankets (her most prized possession), the children, even little Grace whose stockings can’t be used by the grown male soldiers, all give up their stockings. When the men leave, the children ask Mrs. Ward what she gave up, and she replies, “All that I have…my husband and my children.” This just shows how important people felt the war was and how much they supported their soldiers. Even though the family had little to spare, they gave up a lot of sentimental and important items.
The second story of The Two Altars is quite a different story from the first. In this story, we are placed into the happy home of a black family. Henry, the son, has just returned from school and has received good marks from the teacher; his sister has been taking care of the baby of the family; and the mother is completing household chores, namely making biscuits. Soon, the father arrives. The family gathers around the dinner table, converse about their newfound financial stability, laugh in amusement at the baby, and begin to read from the Bible. As they began reading, two men burst into the home and seize the father from his family, arresting him on account of Mr. B. of Georgia. The family is devastated. Next we are taken to the court-room, where the father learns he is to be sold back into slavery to the south, never to return to the north again.
The first work seems to be pretty self-explanatory. The main purpose of the first story is to show just how important liberty was to Americans during the war. Which war was it, though? I think it ties in well with the second story because the second story is about a black man, George, who bought his own freedom is forced back into slavery. The same liberty that everyone held so dear in the first story, the liberty George is supposed to be entitled to, is unfairly stripped from him and devastated a perfectly respectable family.
Aside from that comparison there were a few things I wanted to point out. In the first story, Dick argues with Aunt Hitty about being a man. He says, “If I ain’t a man, I soon shall be; my head is up to my mother’s shoulder, and I can fire off a gun, too.” Do these things make a man a man? What constitutes manliness now versus then? Also, I originally got the vibe Aunt Hitty disagreed with the war because on page 2 Dick tells Gracie not to cry because “…it’s glorious to give up everything for liberty” to which Gracie replies, “Aunt Hitty won’t think so.” Who was Mehetabel? Why did the second story not have a complete title? Its title was The Altar of –– (left blank). Also, was the father able to be taken back because of the Fugitive-Slave Act mentioned in class?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thoreau-Civil Disobedience

                Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is Thoreau’s opinion on how corrupt and unjust the government is. In his work, Thoreau criticizes the government and voices his displeasure for slavery and the Mexican-American war. Thoreau feels that the rights and opinions of men, or people for that matter, are overshadowed and undermined by the government. He feels those in power are corrupt and that they forget their conscience altogether when making decisions.  Also in his work, Thoreau compares the government to a machine, stating that it will run until it is opposed and stopped. In this case, the only thing that can stop the machine from running is the people. Thoreau tells us to fight for what we feel is right according to us and to actually do something about it instead of waiting for someone else to. He recollects how he avoided paying taxes he felt were unfair and was thrown in jail for it (although the prison he was in didn’t sound at all like any prison I’ve ever heard of).
I found it interesting that Thoreau challenged people to actually step up and do something about the issues America faced. For instance, Thoreau felt that some laws were unjust such as paying taxes to support the war and slavery even when people didn’t necessarily agree with them. According to the Constitution, laws could be amended, but very slowly. In Part 2 paragraph 8, Thoreau says that “if one HONEST man…were to withdraw from this [taxing slavery]…it would be the abolition of slavery in America.” Basically Thoreau is saying to step up and oppose the government!
                While I was reading Civil Disobedience, I was instantly reminded of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers. This work had the same politically-challenging tone to it. Clearly Thoreau was in opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery. The political views made this a bit dry for me to read, but I see how important Thoreau’s work was because he attempted to get Americans to actually do something about current issues instead of just educating them on them.  Also, In Part 1 paragraph 10, Thoreau states, “There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them…” This sounded a lot like Harriet Jacobs to me because she called out the abolitionists in the north who opposed slavery but did nothing about it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stanton on Women's Rights

                Elizabeth Stanton’s address on women’s rights is exactly what it claims to be, an address on women’s rights. However, Stanton’s work is less of an address and more of a push. Early on Stanton states that she feels it’s too early to be addressing the issue of women’s rights, so something had to have happened to cause her to write about the issue prematurely.
                One thing I noticed about the work was that Stanton’s argument was extremely religious-based. Throughout the story she references the Bible and God as pertaining to the rights of women. For instance, Stanton recollects the classic story of Adam and Eve, but puts a spin on it saying that woman and man are the same and equal under God because they were put on the same Earth and given life; one is no different than the other. The fact that man and woman are equal in God’s eyes becomes a recurrent point of Stanton’s argument. She also references the work of Paul, who stated that a wife should obey her husband. Stanton challenges this statement by arguing that this is left to interpretation to whoever is reading the Bible.
                Something else I noticed Stanton continually used for arguments sake were women in positions of power who were primarily foreign.  For instance, early on in the story she talks about the power Kerek and Mahometan women have in their respective cultures (by the way, I don’t even know what those are, so how does she?). She later continues to reference other women in power such as Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and Isabella of Spain; she even says these women did arguably better jobs than many kings did. It was interesting to me that she always referenced foreign people. To me, it felt like Stanton was giving an “everyone but us (us being America) lets women have power” vibe. This could potentially play towards readers who are striving towards strengthening America as an independent country because, according to Stanton, America will never reach its full potential unless men and women unite.
 It was interesting to me how much evidence and fact Stanton used to back up her points. It was almost like she was writing a research paper where you are supposed to have the dreaded concrete details to back up your points!
Stanton also touched a lot on the equality of women, or lack thereof. She again explains that women are equal to man and should be treated as so, or the nation will never reach its full potential. She cites examples of inferiority by talking about women being solely responsible for household chores, and wives being suppressed by their husbands. This seemed to be the norm then, which reminded me a lot of Keith’s comment in class about how his girlfriend was taught that women clean and men labor.
As far as questions about the text go, I have a few. First, what is the Seneca Falls Convention? On page 3, paragraph 3, what is the 21 in the “stripling of 21?” Age? Finally, why is so much of Stanton’s work torn away at the end?