George Horton, an African-American slave for 66 years, wrote “Liberty and Slavery” in 1829. In this poem, Horton illustrates his vision of breaking free from the “slavish chain” (Horton, 2) of oppression, primarily through literary techniques of juxtaposition and personification.
Horton introduces the title with two dissimilar words – liberty and slavery. By starkly contrasting the two and placing repression second to freedom, Horton establishes his confidence that liberty will dominate in the end. The poem begins with three stanzas concerning the depressive state in which Horton is tortured and “deprived of liberty” (8). His diction, carefully chosen words like “silent grave” (10), depict the confinement of slaves, who are silently suffering and fading away on what is compared to their deathbed. However, in the third stanza, Horton drastically changes to a hopef...
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...xtensive personification of freedom gives much depth to liberty and makes it a relatable subject. Dunbar is more discreet in implying that African-Americans should not let the mask hinder them from expressing their true desire of liberty from racism. Ultimately, both of these poems are very effective in drawing upon a new understanding in the consciences of his white American audience – that life would be very barren without freedom.
Reuben, Paul P. Chapter 6: Paul Laurence Dunbar." PAL: Perspectives in American
Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. 2011
Sherman, Joan R. African-American Poetry. Dover Publications, Inc., 1997. Print. 2,
U.S. Survey Course, “Trouble So Hard”: Singing of Slavery and Freedom.
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