[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
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How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

 

Frederick Douglass Sketch by M.R.P. - autobiography, sincerity, community

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Last week’s Tuesday Tome article considered Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and showcased the ways in which Franklin’s carefully crafted self-presentation acts as an extension of Franklin’s moralizing vanity. In contrast to Franklin’s project, I would like to put forward the perceptive thinker and stirring writer Frederick Douglass as a better candidate for the role of quintessential American.

The autobiography of Frederick Douglass, unlike that of Benjamin Franklin (which focuses entirely on self-improvement), seems to put forth the pressing concern of bringing about political and societal betterment. Douglass spends nearly all of his time decrying the atrocities and duplicities inherent to the system of slavery.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Continue reading

[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, 1791]
Acclaim Demanded:

How Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Manipulates the Reader

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin - autobiography, manipulation, propaganda

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin

To this day, the figure of Benjamin Franklin is evocative of something quintessentially American, as though a true American could be identified by the degree to which they approximate that figure. Readers of Franklin’s autobiography may scan Franklin’s mannerisms and qualities for confirmation of existing identities or individualized schemata for betterment. Franklin everywhere encourages people toward health, wisdom, and success.

In pursuit of this betterment-by-role-model, readers of Franklin find themselves urged to acknowledge a difference between Benjamin Franklin’s life and their own lives. Franklin operates within the society of his audience, aspiring to a tenuous conception of perfection. So, oddly, the apparently warm and wise figure of Franklin is involved in the manipulative presentation of his self as separate from both his society and his audience.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Continue reading

[Work: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, 1791]
Acclaim Demanded:

How Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Manipulates the Reader

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski