Thursday, February 10, 2011

Frederick Douglass - from "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro"

Very many of the works of Frederick Douglass fall in the category of Realism. In this small section of on of his great works, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro," Douglass goes well beyond the simple level of reflection on the day-to-day events and norms of the social system he lived in; in fact, he incorporates sections of the ideas of Realism directly in his writing and word choice. "Realism is the attempt to depict life as it actually exists, not as the author wants it to be in the present or the future, or imagines it was in the past" (Werlock). Douglass' realism in this story serves a powerful purpose as he tries to convey the fruitlessness of celebration for African Americans on the Fourth of July. Douglass is upfront about the subject, and it shows that he is passionate enough about his people to imply a sense of stupidity about which African Americans should celebrate the day. Essentially, Douglass states that white people are allowed to falsely celebrate the Fourth of July for their "freedom," despite its being stolen, in the sense that we merely ran away from our original English heritage, but African American people should and can not celebrate a freedom on the day because they, still being in technical slavery, are bound by their masters (Douglass, 337). No matter how African Americans of the time celebrated the Fourth of July, Douglass puts those people to shame for having the audacity to deliberately defy what they were fighting for and to make mockery of the efforts of salvation of rights to the enslaved population. Such bold accusations were quite common in thematic structures of Realism works because showing the harsh reality pushed more people into action than did simply implying a fact that could just as easily be taken out of context. What is possibly the most powerful connection Douglass has is at the end of his first paragraph when he says, "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn..." (Douglass, 337). Not only does this refer to the obvious fact that he does not believe in the African American celebration of the Fourth of July, but he is also implying a call to action for the government and religious leaders. He wants for the government to realize the moral wrong that is being carried out by allowing African Americans to join in the celebrations. It is not a day of thanks for them, but it should be a day of sorrow to mark when their fate was sealed into slavery because America then would have its own decisions to make, and slavery was one issue that was accepted at the time of creation of the country, on July fourth, 1776. Furthermore, religious officials should be weeping for the injustice being served by the wrongful celebration of the day because it was their job to see the world in the same perspective, one in the alleged "eye of the Lord." They were the messengers of God, but they had failed by allowing segregation and slavery to continue. Psychologically speaking, Douglass finds it impossible - unprecedented! - to allow such a naturalistic travesty as slavery to unfold; Douglass speaks of the white man's vanity in his thought of national liberty, heartlessness in rejoicing, and mockery in claims of equality because he thinks the nation is now "free" (Douglass, 337). Both the American Dream and Hero in his speech are given from the lack thereof, in which the American Dream is being let down and a Hero is never present (Douglass). A sort of hatred of his audience is even heard in his voice at his closing words, "There is not a nation on earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour" (Douglass, 337).

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro." American Literature. Comp. Jeffery D. Wilhelm. Columbus: McGraw Hill, 2009. 337. Print.

Werlock, Abby H. P. "realism." The Facts On File Companion to the American Short Story, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Gamshrtsty0575&SingleRecord=True. 11 Feb. 2011

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