Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
One of my favorite books to reread (and to teach) is The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass learned to read and write by reading and imitating passages from The Columbian Orator; therefore his style is orderly, balanced, and crisp. His favorite rhetorical device seems to have been the chiasmus; he favored parallel sentence structure, extended metaphor, and clear, logical thinking. One of the best-known passages from the narrative is: "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man."
My juniors are reading Narrative as a prelude to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Most teenagers seem to enjoy Narrative; despite the challenging vocabulary, the classic style of Douglass make this book a relatively easy read. Today we had a Socratic Seminar on The Narrative, and I was really pleased at how well it went. I had a page full of prepared questions, but I never had to say a word. The students all had good questions prepared ahead of time, and the conversation just flowed. I was a little nervous about this seminar; after all, slavery is a deeply uncomfortable subject. I need not have worried; the discussion was respectful, interesting, and complex. Hurrah!