“Slave in form” and “Slave in fact”

What I feel Douglass is saying here is that although in that moment he is aware he is still a slave, he finds that the urge, he once had, to run away is rejuvenated and he realizes he can overcome slavery. “Slavery in form” was what Douglass was at that point, but he claims “the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact” so he acknowledges that he will not be enslaved forever and that slavery will not define his life. This was Douglass’ resilience and optimism returning to him, and this moment feels like Douglass’ resurrection/rebirth. Essentially, by saying this Douglass is again fooling people by playing the part of a slave (“slave in form”) while truly knowing inside that he can change his fate, overcome the monster that is slavery, and not be forever remembered as simply just a slave (“slave in fact”).


Frederick Douglass & Emerson/Whitman

Douglass claims that Hugh Auld’s lesson, that taught Douglass that slavery functions on the deprivation of education and ideas for slaves, was the best lesson he learned. Although Douglass learned that lesson through the grueling cruelness of being a slave, one could learn a lesson similar in Emerson’s “The American Scholar”. Emerson points out the importance of self reliance and independent thinking, both of which were strictly forbidden by the slave masters of Douglass and other slaves.

A connection seen between Douglass and Whitman would be the respect and the mutual-found beauty of individuality. Whitman made his liking for individuality quite clear, but Douglass’ may seem harder to find. I would argue, however, that because of his openness to liking a new master, his self-sacrificial consideration to open a secret school for slaves, and his inherent disdain for slavery would indicate Douglass’ fancy for individuality. I also think that back in the pre-Civil War times that anybody who identified as an abolitionist was likely in the same boat as Douglass and Whitman. Support for slavery is not only inhuman, but also a giant middle finger to individuality.

One last connection between Douglass and Emerson would be based on this quote from “The American Scholar”: “Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this.” Douglass did exactly that, he wrote a book for the next generation, and also for his current generation. Douglass uses the stories of his own experiences to convey meaning to his readers and to generations to come.

Elements of Emerson in Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.” This sentence, from Emerson’s “The American Scholar”, ties in perfectly with Whitman’s “Song of Myself” because both Emerson and Whitman are trying to drive at the importance of self reliance. Emerson is telling us not to take a book and go through life by everything it says, but rather take the book and, from it, create an individual thought/idea. That idea is clear in “Song of Myself” when Whitman writes: “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
Emerson and Whitman are saying the same thing: it is important to develop your own opinions and ideas rather than imitating those of the past or anyone for that matter.

Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding. The books of an older period will not fit this.” Again with the idea of self reliance, but with a different spin. Emerson’s quote is important to the part of “Song of Myself” where the child asks about the grass. What Whitman says after being asked what the grass is goes hand in hand with this quote from “The American Scholar”. Giving just any answer to the kid would just be a disservice because any answer Whitman could have given would have been the same old crap he was taught; an answer would have served the purpose of “the books of an older period”. Instead the riff Whitman goes on about the grass is the book for the next generation. The idea of creatively thinking about it on his own was the lesson for the next generation. I would phrase it as: do as Whitman does, but don’t do what Whitman does.

Transformative Nature

In the poem “Renascence” by Edna St. Vincent Millay nature transforms the narrators gloom realizations and thoughts about humanity. The poem begins with the narrator standing on top of a mountain admiring a beautiful view of nature at every turn. The narrator begins thinking of human suffering and is soon overtaken by the idea of others’ pain and suffering so much so that the narrator feels buried beneath the ground. But soon enough rain washes down on the narrator which brings on the feelings of rejuvenation and new life. In this poem, nature, by being so beautiful, brings on negative feelings about humanity and drives the morale of the narrator deep into the ground, but most importantly nature (in this case rain) brings the narrator back up with the idea of being alive again. The rain triggered a complete transformation for the narrator working as a cleanser while it washed over the narrator.