Christianity and Slavery In Early American Literature Essay
Christianity and Slavery In Early American Literature
In the 18th -19th centuries religion had a great influence on culture and literature. The American society created a unique culture influenced by its norms and traditions, historical and political development, Christianity and slavery. Dogmas and norms of the society were embodied in the religious tradition and transferred into literature. Religion and slavery did not independently becoming an integral part of culture. Thesis Early American Literature reflects cultural norms and tradition of the society and shows that blacks and whites were united by virtues and religious dogmas of Christianity.
Early American Literature show that with the help of literature, people embodies their beliefs and hopes, ideas and ideals. Christianity and church was a strong force which dictated social norms and social order. For instance, the poetry by Phillis Wheatley vividly depicts the importance of morality and religion for both whites and blacks. In the poem “On Virtue” he writes: “ Virtue, thro’ my youthful years! / O leave me not to the false joys of time! / But guide my steps to endless life and bliss” (Wheatley, 1996). In other poems he depicts characters as devoted parishioners who follow all values and commandments.
Phillis Wheatley can be considered as “a moral poet” of his time unveiling social contradictions and moral values of slaves and their hopes. He describes the roles of God and goodness in life of slaves. In ISAIAH Wheatley describes: “For man the wrath of an immortal God: / “To execute th’ Eternal’s dread command / “My soul I sacrific’d with willing hand” (Wheatley, 1996). These examples show that religion and Christianity determines lives of slaves in spite of the fact that church and Christianity were used to defense and legitimatize the institution of slavery.
Many characters in his poems wonder why anyone would understand a difference between slaves and masters, blacks and whites. Morality is depicted through religious ritual and values followed by slaves. It is not surprising that religious dogmas became the code of behavior for many women who needed strong arguments to prove their decisions. Also, the Christianity was used to maintain defense of domesticity and the role of women as mother and wives only. In “To his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, on the Death of his Lady” Wheatley writes: “ALL-Conquering Death! by thy resistless pow’r, /Hope’s tow’ring plumage falls to rise no more!
/Of scenes terrestrial how the glories fly, / Forget their splendors, and submit to die! ” (Wheatley, 1996). This theme underlines the fact that all people are mortal. Even trying to challenge destiny, people cannot change ordered hierarchy of the world, and is punished with an eternal hell. In the speech, Frederick Douglass addresses a very important problem of racial inequality in America and its impact on the society. In his speech “the Fourth of July”, Frederick Douglass depicts social and political situation and ridicules low morals and false values existing in the society.
As the most important he bases the main arguments on the principles of liberty, moral and religious norms. He appeals to emotions of listeners through the theme of God and morality. Douglass states: “this, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God” (Douglass, 2002). Distinction between spiritual and temporal power creates a space for freedom, in which an individual can fight for freedom
Works of two African-American writers and abolitionists show that slaves believed in God and followed Christian morality in their life. For slaves and free black men religion was a moral guard which shaped their behavior. Christianity played a crucial role in lives of all slaves. Both abolitionists depict that religion and church exercise power, keep their traditions and values. It is important to note that during 19th century religion had a great influence on social life and was often used as a theme and framework in literature (Fogel, 1989).
Douglass gives some overview of the cultural situation of that time and people’s attitude towards the slavery. This speech is very important as it appeals to everyone both blacks and whites. In general, it is possible to say that in Douglass gives a vivid explanation of the slavery that relates with accuracy to the real events. He depicts that everyone must die eventually, and so the natural roots of democracy are therefore in mortality, whether due to natural causes or to the bloodshed of internecine warfare. Douglass blames church stating that it supports slave-owners and slavery.
On the other hand, he states: “the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever! ” (Douglass, 2002). He separates Christianity and the American church underlining that “The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery” (Douglass, 2002). In his speech, a spirit of mischievous and subversive anarchy runs through the entire work.
This duality in views and ideals allowed slavery to continue. The short story of Edgar Poe “The Masque of The Red Death” vividly portrays the fear of death and fate. The protagonist of the story, the Prince Prospero fights with death trying to outwit it. Although, Poe depicts that it is a vein sacrifice that is painful and sorrowful causing terrible sufferings and emotional burden for the Prince. He looks around and sees the ordinariness of their existence. “The Red Death” or plagues is a symbol of death depicting that human beings cannot escape death.
“The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men” (Poe, n. d. ). Previously, the Prince had been a man who was somehow placed above ordinary mortals, who, either through his depth of suffering or his nobility of nature felt and suffered more than readers could be expected to do in everyday life. The hero also suffers death at the end, his downfall being a result of a fatal flaw in his character, a trait which he cannot help as it is a part of his makeup, but which causes the tragedy and eventually his death.
The themes of fate and death show that being a part of culture religion was reflected in literary works. Poe portrays that behavior of people was religiously determined and that the key to suc¬cessful ideas was in the understanding of religious dogmas and values. In general, Poe’s concern is for degrees of personal freedom results when a man, struggling against death, is pushed further back, achieving little in his struggle for life, and having degrees of free¬dom removed from him. Mortality is undergone in order to expand the human spirit, to delve into matters previously kept hidden, to grow through fear.
The fear before unknown and punishment were the main causes allowing slavery to continue. “The Black Cat” belongs to a literature of horror portraying a world of an alcoholic suffered from uncontrollable rage and violence. In the intoxicated state the unnamed narrator cannot control his aggression and hangs his favorite black cat. In a period of time, he tries to kill another cat with an axe, but kills his wife who tries to protect the animal. In this story, Poe portrays two different worlds: reality and fantasy that resulted in terrible crimes.
Also, Poe unveils the theme of human relations: people love each other and make friends, but if they deprive their friends they are finished. (Poe, Black Cat, 2005). “A Black Cat” is a symbol of death and fate, fear and Hell. Similar to this explanation, the existence of the institution of slavery, in which white men played the dominant role and wielded control, placed slaves at the mercy of God and destiny. Christian traditions and consciousness allowed slavery to continue for a long time. Christian-conscious world was used as a strong force that affected all aspects of life.
Fear of death and punishment limited actions of slaves and forced them to subdue religious norms and traditions. In reality, Christian-conscious world was the only dominated institution which affected life of whites and blacks through culture and traditions. In literature, religion helped to develop and sustain morality by promoting moral reasoning and by exemplifying values and behaviors that were conducive to human dignity. In “Pudd’nhead Wilson” Mark Twain describes the role of fate and destiny in life of a slave. The events took place in the Dawson’s Landing.
Through the characters of Tom and Roxy Mark Twain shows that the fate and fear of unknown are determined by social traditions and religious norms. He writes: “he was not committing any sin that God would remember against him in the Last Great Day” (Twain, 2001). Tom comes to know that every moment and every act share the same fate. The anticipation of his life dissolves the feeling of overriding importance. Mark Twain explains: “Consider the flea! –incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage.
Whether you are asleep or awake he will attack you .. you are to him as are the massed armies of the earth to a sucking child” (Twain, 2001). The literary woks under analysis show that church worked hard to distinguish religious values of slaves and masters and their respective on peoples. Christianity was the “law of life” for defenders. The distance between these groups and a largely secular but still vaguely society is such that the preservation of the former from the evils of the latter has been achieved by the erection of considerable social barriers.
Religious piety and submission were beliefs that were more marginal components of the ideology depicted by the early American writers. But, truly said it was not an ideology we understand it but obsession. The religious mores and Christian dogmas were such that traditional practice isolates slaves from the wider society. Christianity can be seen as one of the main causes of slavery and oppression. Works Cited Page 1. Douglass, F. The Fourth of July. 2002. Available at: http://douglassarchives. org/doug_a10. htm 2. Fogel, R. W.
Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. W. W. Norton, 1989. 3. Poe. E. The Masque of the Red Death. n. d. Available at: http://bau2. uibk. ac. at/sg/poe/works/reddeath. html 4. Poe, E. The Black Cat. 2005. Available at: http://www. online-literature. com/poe/24/ 5. Twain, M. Pudd’nhead Wilson. 2001. Available at: http://emotionalliteracyeducation. com/classic_books_online/puddn10. htm 6. Wheatley, Ph. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. 1996. Available at: http://www. gutenberg. org/dirs/etext96/whtly10. txt