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There is no doubting the fact that slavery has been and always will be a controversial issue. What makes it even more complicated is the conflicting accounts of the slaves experiences.
The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass and Beloved both use a unique storytelling device constructing a present from the unspeakable stories of the past. They take the psychic scars of slavery, scars that cover an entire nation, and shrink them down to a very personal level. However, their individual accounts of slavery are quite different.
One major difference is how each defines the relationship between a slave mother and her child. Frederick Douglass writes of being separated from his mother when he was an infant. He states this was a common practice. His only guess for the separation was to hinder the development of the childs affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. (Page 2). Douglass only saw his mother a few times.
She usually visited him at bedtime and left before he woke up. So removed was he from her life, that when she died he felt no more sadness than if he had been told a stranger had died. Unfortunately, we dont have the benefit of his mothers memories of her affections towards her son. We only have one childs point of view.
In Beloved, Sethe also remembers seeing her mother only a few times. The difference between Sethe and Frederick Douglass is, Sethe talked of having a genuine affection for her mother.
Sethe gets to play the roles of both child and mother. The audience gets to see her love for her own children and her distress of being separated from them. She loves her children so much she would rather kill them than submit them to the horrors of Sweet Home.
The difference between the bonding of the two main characters to their mothers may very well lie in the difference of gender. Douglass speaks about his childhood memories at a point in his life when he did not yet have children of his own. Even if he did, a father has a different bond to his children than a mother. Sethe, on the other, hand reflects on her childhood from the point of view of being a mother herself. It is possible that she puts her maternal voice into her childhood experience, thus, remembering her relationship with her mother through the eyes of a mother, rather than a child.
We have to trust that in reality being separated from a parent at a young age must hinder a bond from at least the childs point of view. How can a child be expected to love a parent that hasnt raised it? Douglass points out that his family were the other slaves with whom he had lived. Separation from his surrogate family was more upsetting to him than his own mothers death. It is important to take into account the differences between film and a book. Film by definition is a visual art; an art that was not around before the civil war in the capacity it is today. The written and spoken word at the time of slavery was as powerful then as film is today.
The audience for each piece was also different. The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass was written at the time of slavery for a specific purpose: to spread the awareness of slaves conditions and to help bring about the end slavery in America. Beloved was made in the twentieth century to teach its audiences about slavery in the hope of preventing similar occurrences in modern times.
Frederick Douglass account of slavery comes from his own life. Beloved is fiction; it is historical fiction, but fiction nonetheless. I personally feel that Fredrick Douglass account is a truer representation of slavery mainly because it is from his own experience. Beloved is based upon a book that is based on research done 200 years after the fact and then further filtered by Hollywood. I dont think any one point of view can be complete, but to me a first hand account is more believable than second-hand hearsay. This is not to diminish the movie or say that all slaves had no affection for their mother, but to me Douglass case is more credible, because it is true.
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