Howard Fast, the author of the book Freedom Road, was born on November 11, 1914 and died at the age of 89 on March 12, 2003. Fast lived a long and adventurous life. A few of the things he did throughout his lifetime were; joining the American Communist party in 1943, serving a prison term in 1950 for refusing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and his books were purged from American school libraries. On the other hand some of the positive things that happened in his life was that in 1953, he was rewarded the Stalin Peace Prize and in June of 1937 he married his first wife, Bette Cohen. In adjunction with his adventurous lifestyle, Fast spent most of his time writing. He wrote seven works of nonfiction, two autobiographies, fifty-two novels, five short stories one essay, and seven Masao Masuto Mysteries under the Penn name E.V. Cunningham. As well as writing, he created two films based off novels. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Fast)
In the book Freedom Road, Howard Fast tells a fictional story based off the true events that occurred during the Constitutional Convention. The beginning of the book does not start the way most books start. This novel starts by talking about the main character, Gideon, as if we are supposed to know who he is. At first, this is confusing but after a couple of pages, you catch on and start to understand a lot easier. The first thing we are told about in the book is how all of the freed men from the small town of Charleston, had left a few weeks back to go vote. However, neither the town nor the men who left knew what voting actually was. Not knowing what voting was, made everyone who stayed in town very nervous and worried, they were not sure whether or not those men would be coming home or not. Therefore, when they men were spotted walking back into town everyone was extremely excited and could not wait to hear all about this voting thing.
However, it seemed that none of the men were really talking, until one of them tells the town that they have some big news to share with everyone. Thus far, into the book, we have yet to hear from the main character, and we have actually been reading from his wives point of view. Once the returning men started talking, the book transitions from the wives point of view to Gideon’s, and that is when things start to pick up. We learn that the men’s big news is the fact that Gideon was elected to be a delegate. Because of his prowess in battle, the other ex-slaves looked to him as their leader in peacetime, but he was an uneducated man who felt himself unsuited for leadership. Yet knowing that his people wanted and needed him, he was determined to make himself fit into the pattern their hopes had cut out for him.
However, none of them truly knew what a delegate was or what exactly a delegate did. The only thing they really knew was the Gideon would be receiving a letter once all the votes were counted to tell him if he had won the election. Several months go past in the book and nothing happens, no one in the town hears anything about Gideon being elected. Then one day, the postal man comes around and hands Gideon the letter that he had been waiting for. At this point in the book, we find out how afraid he is to go to Charleston because he is a “nigger.” He feels as though he is not very smart. He does not want to go “to city full of white houses… full of white folks making fun…” (p. 16-17). So in order to help him overcome that fear Brother Peter tells him the people need a leader and because of how strong Gideon is physically and mentally, he was chosen to represent them. Because of Brother Peter, Gideon decides to go to Charleston.
When he arrives in Charles and he realizes that, he has no money and no place to sleep, so he ends up sleeping under a hay barrel for the first night. It is the next morning when Gideon is offered a couple of cents for some physical labor, he reluctantly accepts the job realizing that he has no other option but to. Because of that money he is able to rent a room for the nights he will be at the convention, buy some food, and clothes that will look appropriate for the convention. Moreover, this is when we start getting into the convention. For the first couple of days Gideon was determined not to speak at the convention, in fear of making a fool of himself in front of all the educated white folk. Yet one day he is outraged and just cannot help himself, he gets up and speaks. Nevertheless, he was still embarrassed that he could not find the right words for what he was saying and for the fact that he sounded very uneducated compared to some of the rest.
However when he was given some books that taught him how to read and speak properly, he began to speak out more and voice his opinion. To his surprise he was heard, people started to listen to what he was saying, and even siding with him. Fast explains that the Constitutional Convention worked because, though neither black nor poor whites were overly fond of each other, both realized they had a common enemy in a planter group. With the help of Gideon’s voice, and many others they fought against the planter group. The fought for a system of public schools, the abolition of imprisonment for debt, a simple and fair divorce law, a statute making it impossible for a wife’s property to be sold in settlement of her husband’s debts, and a measure for universal suffrage – which, came as close as man had ever come to giving women a break and land. Even though he fought for all of these things, the most important ones for Gideon were fair and equal education, and land.
Throughout his time at the convention lets his wife slip away from him and stands by while a white northerner helps Gideon’s oldest son, Jeff, through medical school in Scotland; there was no medical school in America free enough from prejudice to accept him. Gideon loses site at what he loves the most in his life, and lets them all slip away because freedom seems more important than family. Some of the themes of this book are love and understanding, vigilance and perseverance, and hope. The reason why I say that a theme is love and understanding is because in the beginning of the book we hear about how his wife has stayed by his side through thick and thin. She waited for him though the war that he willingly signed up to go fight for. She let him go vote because she realized that even though no one knew exactly what it was, it was something of importance to her husband. In addition, though she has just gotten her husband back and did not want him to leave again; she understood that this was something that he needed to do. She stood by his side, maybe not physically but mentally, throughout the entirety of the convention.
Although this theme is not a main theme in the book, I think that it is a rather important one. The other theme I had mentioned was vigilance and perseverance. I believe these two themes are the main themes of the book, because everyone in this book is persevering in one way or another. Brother Peter insists that Gideon goes to the convention. Everyone at the convention is pushing for exactly what it is that they want written down, and his son is moving to a land unknown to him for an education that he cannot receive where he is. The last theme I had mentioned was hope. I believe that hope is the most predominant theme throughout the book, because every single person has hope. In the beginning, the town and the men who left were hoping that this voting thing was not going to get them killed. Gideon’s wife hoped that he would not leave her again, and when he did, she hoped that he would be okay and that she would get to see him again.
The people of the convention all held on to the hope that what they say and what they want will be written down into a law. Then we have Gideon himself, he has hope that he will be able to read, write and give all freed slaves the right to an education. The theme of hope plays repeatedly throughout the story. All of the stories characters played a large role in the book, everyone influenced the book in one way or another, but a few of the characters that stood out to me are Brother Peter, Gideon, and Cardozo. The first character that really stands out to me is Brother Peter. I think the fact that he did not stand up and ask people to vote for him, as a delegate was a selfless act. All of the people in town look up to him and ask him for advice, they would have easily voted for him as they did Gideon, but brother Peter knew that Gideon would have more to learn from being a delegate than he would. Brother Peter also knew that Gideon would have more of a fight in him than he would. I think the reason why Brother Peter was so pushy about Gideon going to the convention was that he knew that Gideon would get things done.
The other character that stands out to me is Gideon. Gideon starts in the beginning of the book being illiterate, but pushes though the struggle of learning how to read and write by himself. He also struggles with the fact that he is poor and does not measure up to some of the other people in the convention. Gideon fights for education and freedom so much that he lets go of everything that he truly loves. He lets his wife slip away and his son leaves. He forgets that he has people waiting for him back home. Even though I hate that he loses sight of the place he came from and his family, he over comes many struggles and fights to achieve his goals. The other character that stands out to me is Cardozo. Cardozo is the first person at the convention that comes up and talks to Gideon.
I like the way Cardozo sees things differently, he is a black man that has been free all his life, got an education, socialized around white people his entire life. Therefore, when he first talks to Gideon he wants him to explain why black people should have en education. Once Gideon explains himself Cardozo understands, and helps Gideon as much as he can. He introduces him to all the right people, he supports him in the convention, and most of all he gave Gideon books that taught him how to read and write. He gave Gideon what he had come to fight for. I think it takes very kindhearted people to stand by someone who cannot even form the words to fight by themselves. Before I actually started reading this story, I thought it was going to be another extremely boring history book, however once I started I could not put it down. The way this story was written was fabulous. The way Fast incorporated Gideon’s thoughts, his writing and speaking was interesting.
I loved that the real facts of what happened during that time was not just thrown in our faces, it was mixed into the fictional story that kept you interested. I think the way that we are lead through the past so effortlessly was a fascinating way to keep reader interested. I like the way Fast incorporated all the different kinds of people at the convention. In the story, the laws of freedom, education, and land would not have got through without the black folks and poor white folks being there. I think the way Fast portrayed Gideon, as a strong illiterate freedman was a great way to grab the reader’s attention and walk us through the past in a wonderful way. I think the only thing that Fast is really missing is more of Gideon speaking. Fast does an excellent narration of illiterate folks, but he does not do enough of it. Overall, this book was great, I will most likely be keeping it, and not reselling it so I can re-read it repeatedly.
Courtney from Study Moose
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