Literacy in Song of Solomon, Life of Frederick Douglass, Push and Slave Narratives

2111 Words9 Pages
Exploration of Language and Literacy in Song of Solomon, Life of Frederick Douglass, Push and Slave Narratives African-Americans have been contributing to American literature for hundreds of years. From Gustavus Vassa, or Olaudah Equiano, in 1789 to Sapphire in 1996, writers have been telling their stories. The influence of minority writers and speakers on literature, literacy, and language is certainly notable. First of all, black American literature helps "others" hear the minority voice and vicariously share the minority experience. The typical white reader cannot understand what the black race undergoes on a daily and generational basis; however, literature can bring the white reader into the minority's world by tapping into the reader's imagination and sympathies. The main purpose of the slave narratives is to let readers share the slaves' experiences, and as a result elicit sympathies so that the reader will consider, and hopefully act upon, abolitionist ideals. In the preface to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, William Lloyd Garrison writes about Douglass and the white northerners "whose sympathy and affection he has strongly secured by the many sufferings he has endured, ...whose minds he has enlightened on the subject of slavery, and who have been melted to tears by his pathos, or roused to virtuous indignation by his stirring eloquence against the enslavers of men" (ix). Douglass was certainly aware of his mission to agitate the public mind and win the hearts of others (xii). He achieved this purpose through his voice unwaveringly telling the pitiful story of his slave experiences. How could his audience turn a deaf ear to such eloquence and power? Like Douglass, Sapphire shares the minority experience with the privileged population. She achieves this feat through the character Precious and her unique voice. The minority voice is distinct and unavoidable, for it is the voice that narrates the story. For example, Precious contrasts her life experiences with the dominant class's experiences: "What is a normal life? A life where you not 'shamed of your mother. Where your friends come over after school and watch TV and do homework. Where your mother is normal looking and don't hit you over the head wif iron skillet. I would wish for in my fantasy a second chance. Since my first chance go to Mama and Daddy" (Sapphire 114-115). These powerful statements from the voice of an eighteen year old African-American girl bring the white reader into the reality of the life of the minority.
Open Document