Second essay: lines of attack

Question 1) The trajectory of Douglass’ Narrative goes from slavery to emancipation, from unthinking to thinking, from lack of self to self-assertion. At different points along this trajectory, how does Douglass choose to represent himself? As masculine? Unexceptional? Prophet? Husband? Overcome with anger? Mischievous? What does he emphasize? What does he minimize? What are the effects of these shifting self-presentations, and how do they complicate the narrative trajectory? Be counterintuitive, but rely on the details.

Question 2) To talk about the fragment is to talk about the novel’s structure (the book is written in vignettes). So, how does structure affect content? What does the novel’s loyalty to the vignette prevent or restrict Fern from representing? Or, how flexible is the fragment? What sorts of things is it good at revealing? Be clear about how you are using the term “fragment,” what forms it takes, and then what are the consequences of the fragment on an issue like self-assertion, the conditions for sympathy, etc.

Question 3) First thing you’ll want to do is understand the difference between the author and the narrator, and then the difference between the narrator and the characters. Sometimes the narrative voice aligns with a character’s voice, but there are also highly stylized passages where a particular character’s perspective or consciousness is overwhelmed by the narrator. Why? What does style have to do with this story about identity and technology?

Question 4) Admit that natural does not equal natural. What is agreed upon culturally as natural pits itself against unnatural, transgressive, or deviant actions and ideas. Locate the mouthpieces of these ideas. What is presumed to be elemental and untouchable? What beliefs act as anchors against so much turmoil? Where is there room for challenging definitions? Are there ever agreements?

Question 5) According to Abrams, deictics are “words and phrases . . . whose reference depends on the particular speaker and his or her position in place and time.” They “constantly shift and merge” (180). Whitman is trying to sync up his writing with your reading, so that the both of you meet and merge on the same temporal plane. That’s the intention, anyway. How successful is this strategy when we take into consideration metaphor, simile, and synecdoche? Does figurative language get in the way?


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