Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Making of a Human

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I’ve been scarred and battered.

My hopes the wind done scattered.

Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.

Looks like between ‘em

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They done tried to make me

Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’--

But I don’t care!

I’m still here!

-Langston Hughes (10-167)

Hughes, in his poem “Still Here” (10-167), describes a prime example of what it might have felt like to be a slave. In the 1800’s, blacks had to go through numerous difficult times which included strenuous labor followed by horrendous abuse, emotional as well as physical. Nevertheless, a few slaves were able to persevere and escape from these detestable occurrences and flee north to freedom. Frederick Douglass is one particular individual who did just that and then started his career as an abolitionist orator. However, before he became this distinguished man, he had to reach a turning point in his life which gave him the strength and courage to begin again and reembark on his journey towards his independence. In his book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Frederick Douglass explains the periods in his life when he really felt like a slave and the things that let him know he could and would be a man one day. He speaks of the different slave masters who tried to control him and the beatings and brutal treatments he received from them. Furthermore, Douglass also reveals the ideas, actions, and thoughts from others as well as himself that make him want to strive for his liberty. Although at different times in his life he just wanted to give up, he pushed on and accomplished monumental things.

Unfortunately, Douglass was a black person born into slavery in the south, and his situation was something that he would have to deal and live with. Countless times in his life, he really identified himself with the fact that he was a slave. Douglass would notice things happening to him and around him that made him feel underprivileged and inadequate. As just a young boy, he was a witness to unlimited gruesome whippings of fellow slaves and even some of his family. Douglass describes a time when he was only about six-years-old, and he observed his Aunt Hester being severely punished in the kitchen. For the first time in his life as a slave, he actually saw the unthinkable manner in which blacks were treated by their masters. Being an adolescent, Douglass did not know what to believe after this incident. He figured that he would get beaten next simply because he had no conception of why his aunt was beaten, except for the fact that she was black (5). Her beating was Douglass’s first exposure to the inhuman brutality he would face as a slave.

After this incident, many more violent scenes followed with some of the other slaves. It was not until Douglass reached the age when he was regarded as old enough to work as a slave that he himself had to experience any sort of whipping. While he was with Edward Covey, he was constantly being beaten for one thing or another. Covey had succeeded in breaking Douglass into a working slave by finally making him feel like he was nothing more than a slave. After being with Covey for half a year, Douglass notes that he “was broken in body, soul, and spirit.” He had lost his interest in ever trying to escape to freedom (8). For these reasons, he did not even feel like living at all. He contemplated killing Covey and then himself simply so he did not have to go through any of this anymore. As Douglass says later in the text, “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one [...] darken his moral and mental vision, and [...] to annihilate the power of reason” (58). He learned that the only true way to keep a slave a slave is to treat them as that and only that.

With that in mind, Douglass also conversely realized “that whenever [his] condition was improved, instead of it increasing [his] contentment, it only increased [his] desire to be free” (58). Douglass came upon various situations when he seemed to have somehow been luckily given the upper hand on his move to freedom. From the friends and bonds he made to the opportunities that approached him, Douglass became a considerably well-educated slave. Before Hugh Auld had the chance to stop his wife, Sophia, she had already started to teach Douglass to read and had sparked his interest to continue doing so by any means necessary (0). Furthermore, living in the city of Baltimore gave Douglass lots of new chances for a better path in life. He was able to mingle with some young white boys in town because they were of a poor status and did not recognize Douglass, being a slave, as bad. In exchange for food, that was taken from the Auld house, Douglass continued to be taught how to read and write by these boys (). This is when he also began to teach others his thoughts about slavery being wrong.

In the same way that Douglass made friends with these little boys, he made friends with several of his fellow slaves. One in particular that he met was a man by the name of Sandy Jenkins. Sandy was the one who gave Douglass the “root” to his courage just when he had almost given up altogether. This “root” gave Douglass the fortitude and resilience to fight back against Covey and “rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within [him] a sense of [his] own manhood” (4). From that moment on, he never gave it a second thought that he would not become a free man some day. Later, when he was given back to Hugh Auld to live in Baltimore, Douglass was hired out and learned the skill of caulking (55). Thus furthering his extended education. He had a few arguments and tiffs with some of his white co-workers, but this did not stop Douglass from finally sneaking away to New York and gaining his liberty. There, Douglass continued his prosperity and became a famous abolitionist who spoke at many conventions on the evils of slavery and how to help end it (6).

Similar to Douglass, I have also had to live through many ups and downs in my life to reach the point where I have never been more happy. My whole life I had always been looking for my freedom as well. Freedom to live how I want to and not have to answer to my parents anymore. I thought that when I started college at Michigan State University last fall that it was the answer to my prayers. Being away from home, living on my own, being able to do basically anything I wanted. I thought that this was what it was like to be an adult. Then, I missed a couple of classes, did not do a few assignments and before I knew it, I learned that I had failed my English class. I came back home over the winter holiday break and had a long fight with my parents about failing the class. They wanted me to move back home where I could concentrate better, and they could keep an eye on me. I wanted to stay at MSU, of course, and kept arguing that they did not believe in me enough. Nearing the end of the vacation, the battle finally ceased, and we reached a decision where I would stay home and go to community college for the rest of the year.

I was not happy with this at all, especially since my parents forced some responsibilities on me that I had never even thought would happen to me. They decided it would be better for me to go to school only part time so that I had time to work the rest of the time. They also insisted on my taking only two classes to help me to get back into the swing of things and improve my grades. The money that I got from working would go towards the payments and insurance on my car plus any other expenses that I needed. Now, I will admit that I was extremely spoiled, so to have to do this seemed ludicrous to me. However, I agreed to all of their terms because, really, I had no choice. As the semester went on, I went to class and worked hard to keep my grades up in hopes of returning to MSU that fall. I ended up working two jobs, not because it was financially critical, but just because I could and I enjoyed them both.

I ended up doing really well in my two classes, receiving a .5 and a 4.0. I was so excited that I went to Michigan State to tell my friends there my good news. They were happy for me, of course, but in the same way they were upset about something. I later found out that most of them had continued their party streak , such as I was on, and also did not do so well in their classes. It was at this point I realized that that could have been me and that I cared about my scores and my future too much now to let it ever happen again. Do not get me wrong. I felt bad for my friends, but at the same time, I thanked them for finally opening my eyes to what I was doing to myself and my future. It was from that point on that I Picked up my life and I felt as though I had something to work for and gain.

As I think back now, from that moment to today, I cannot really pinpoint the exact moment when other elements in my life became clear. All I know is that I have finally become an adult. My parents trust me, and we can talk about everything now. I decided to stay home another year for college before returning back to East Lansing to help maintain my behavior. I am doing well in school and continue to actually study to further my future. I even have my own house and car which I am responsible for. The thing I find that makes me feel verifiably grown-up is the fact that the parents of my best friend, who is two years younger then me, treat me as though I am an adult even though their daughter is rebelling and making the same mistakes I had. I believe that they feel, as I do, that somehow I make a good role model for my best friend because I have already been through all the drama of my adolescent years, and I made it out okay.

Presently, I know that I am still young and have many more obstacles to overcome in my future. However, while reading the story of the life of Frederick Douglass, I realized that at the point when he escaped to freedom, he was about the age that I am right now. After all that he had been through, he had finally learned all he needed to know to become a man, a human. Looking at where I am in my life, I can honestly say that I have learned and realized all I need to know to be considered responsible and an adult. Douglass and I obviously lead completely different lives, but the stages of growing up we went through are the same. Actually, everyone’s stages of growing up are basically the same. Moreover, I do feel that I and especially Douglass have had some outrageous experiences in our lives at an early stage that have forced us to understand just where we are in our lives quicker and to accomplish things that we feel are great. Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York Dover Publications, 15.

Hughes, Langston. “Still Here”. 101 Great American Poems. Ed. The American Poetry & Literacy Project. New York Dover Publications, 18. 78.

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