Hey since our exam is on Friday would anyone like to get together around 7ish in the library on Thursday? We decided to do this with my 398 class and we all felt like it really helped. We went through each work, broke it down (some people have different things written so this is really helpful), and then discuss. It really is to help get your thoughts straight and you figure out what you need to go work back on for Friday. Let me know if anyone is interested and I’ll set a time up and get a room. THANKS!
The Oxford English Dictionary defines rhetoric as, “the art of using language effectively so as to persuade or influence others.” Steven B. Katz’s The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust, illustrates the use of rhetoric when present in a memo taken from a published transcript of Shoah, a documentary film on the Holocaust. The memo technically explains improvements that are needed for the vans being used in the early Nazi programs to effectively get rid of “undesirables” (Katz 256), commonly known as Jews. Though this idea, ethically, raises concern of works void of emotion it is technically written to perfection. Through rhetoric this memo is able to effectively explain these horrific suggestions without evoking horrific feelings. In this essay, I will rhetorically analyze Phillis Wheatley’s On Being Brought from Africa to America. Then argue that with the use of rhetoric, specifically the three rhetorical elements Katz says are used in the Shoah, Wheatley effectively shows her influence on whites and their views. She made them believe that her poem submissively accounts gratitude towards them for bringing the slaves from Africa to America. The poem is really a preverbal middle finger that she could not textualize due to her station so she uses the “topoi” (Katz 257) or “a rhetorical commonplace or literary […] formula” (OED) to explain her true views on slavery.
Wheatley was a black slave brought over to America from Africa. She was snatched from her mother and brought to America to be sold. She was purchased by John and Susannah Wheatley. They taught her to read and write languages like English and Latin and then later sent her to England to broaden her horizon. She did not lead the typical slave life. She was granted certain privileges yet Wheatley would never be their equal, and she was never acknowledged as their equal no matter the success she achieved. She had to use her station of privilege smartly. She had to please the whites and not seem like a traitor of her own race. So she seemingly writes like she is trying to appease her white benefactors, but if you read her works with a rhetorical slant you will stumble upon her undetectable agenda. There are subtle jabs of justice for enslaved blacks in her poetry. Wheatley had to use certain technical devices to mask her true views on the slavery of her race. Her position did not grant her the ability to speak frankly on how she felt. A rhetorical reading of Wheatley’s poem allows for readers to see how different methodologies are used to unmask layers of true intention of the author.
“Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land/ Taught my benighted soul to understand/ That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too” (1-3). Wheatley seemingly states that she was saved from her homeland, Africa, by her merciful masters and then brought over to America and introduced to Christianity, which thankfully saved her “benighted soul” (2) from damnation. Based upon the common thoughts of early Americans, damnation is inevitable and expected of all that do not except it as their ideology. Wheatley cunningly introduces what Katz calls the “common topic of relationship” (Katz 257). Katz uses this term to describe the “cause and effect” (Katz 257) in his argument. The cause in his argument is the increase in killings of Jews so the effect is the improvements in the van that are needed to be made. In Wheatley’s poem the “common topic of relationship [or] cause and effect” (Katz 257) is the relationship between the saved white Christians and the unsaved African slaves. Wheatley coaxes the whites into believing they were the sole reason in saving the Africans and insinuating without them being so merciful and bringing them from a land without Christianity the Africans would have been damned to hell for eternity. But Wheatley is really saying what the white men do not see is the true foundation of the Africans being saved is not the “mercy” (1) of the men that presents the notion of being saved, but the slaves belief in the ideology, Christianity, which actually saves their souls. Wheatley cleverly exposes the agenda of the whites, by making it seem like she thanks them for their “mercy” (1) but really she is only grateful for being introduced to the actual religion. She further solidifies my claim when she says, “Once I redemption neither sought nor knew” (4). She would not have known about Christianity because she would not have known where to look, but the early Americans introduced it to her and now cannot take that away from her. Wheatley displays several similar functions that the Shoah did while rhetorically writing about slavery in America.
“Some view our sable race with scornful eye/ Their colour is a diabolic die” (5-6). Wheatley’s use of Katz’s second rhetorical element “topic of comparison [or] difference” is not as clear as the first element. The reader must use close reading and really break down her word choices between lines 5 and 6. In line 5 Wheatley uses her own voice, this is evident based on her usage of the word “our.” She states other races, assuming she means the dominant white race that this is written for, views “our” race with distain. She is not claiming ownership of this claim she is merely stating what “some” others may believe. When I first read this line I fell victim to her clever usage of rhetoric. We then see the shift in ownership when she uses the word “their” (6) unlike the pervious usage of “our” in line 5. This complete change of ownership from one line to the next shows the “difference” (Katz 257) in not only word usage and ownership but in the change of voice. Wheatley subtly uses two voices to further show that the views of her benefactors are not her own views although she cannot outright state that claim. In copy of the text line 6 is also placed in quotations. This is a signal that these words are not of Wheatley. If someone would read this without a rhetorical lens they may assume that Wheatley owns both statements, which is the statement that her race is both disdainful and diabolical. But with the “difference” (Katz 257) in voices and word usage she successfully separates her views from those she must impress without being revealed.
Wheatley uses Katz’s last rhetorical element, “topic of circumstance [or] the impossible” (Katz 257) in lines 7 and 8, by saying “remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain/ May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.” Wheatley is saying that all men, “Christians [and] Negros” with souls “black as Cain” (7) can be saved and “join th’ angelic train” (8). Wheatley shows the whites that Christianity, which they introduced to the “Negros” (7), will save them in any instance or circumstance even if their souls are as “black” (7) as a murderer. Artfully she also includes those who already think they are saved, the “Christians” (7) she mentions, that maybe they are not as “angelic” (8) as they may say, and they too if they truly believe and act as a Christian, can be really saved and go to heaven. Wheatley is saying that yes, it is not “impossible” for the “Negros” (7) to be born again into Christianity, but it too is not “impossible” (Katz 257) for those Christians who think they are saved to be born again. Wheatley is intelligently saying we all no matter who we are- are to be held under the same “circumstance[s]” (Katz 257) when it comes to entering onto the Kingdom of Heaven. Race, authority, or wealth does not exclude any man for answering for his wrongdoings before he enters into the gates of Heaven.
Wheatley ingeniously lends her voice to the struggles and woes of the origins of slavery, all while keeping her benefactors unknowing. She is able to use rhetoric much in the same manner as Katz explains is done in the Shoah. But in case, different from the Shoah, Wheatley’s work is not void of emotion. It gives on one level appeasement and on another pride. She is able to have these two types of emotions prominent in her work due to her ability to manipulate the literary device of rhetoric. Wheatley is able to separate her views of slavery and the views of the whites reading her poetry. With the right methodological use of rhetoric authors are able to get many different points across. Though Wheatley’s work is different from the Katz’s piece, we can see how the effective use of rhetoric can allow writers to use one work and have multiple meanings.
Katz, Steven B. “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust.” College English 54.3: 255-57. Print.
Katz, Steven B. “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust.” College English 54.3: 255-57. Print.
“On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley : The Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174733>
Exodus and Colonization: Charting the Journey in the Journals of Daniel Coker, a Descendant of Africa
Rhondda R. Thomas
African American Review
The link is here.
The story of how blacks came to America is one that we all know. The Europeans traveled over to the “New World” and transformed a barren land (we will not get into the whole Native American thing) into the Promised Land. Now, those Africans that just so happened to be on the ship were “sponsored by [the] organization that affiliated itself with the Egypt they [left] behind.” This organization compared their story to the somewhat 440 yearlong struggles of the oppression and deliverance that God’s people faced during biblical times. Thomas argues that the true oppression is that of those African slaves brought over by the Europeans. I know we have heard it all before. But here is the twist. In Rhondda R. Thomas’ Exodus and Colonization: Charting the Journey in the Journals of Daniel Coker, a descendant of Africa she introduces us to Daniel Coker, a descendant of both African and European decent, and his Exodus journal.
Coker, a well-educated affiliate with the African American community, along with the American Colonization Society (ACS) combined efforts in the 1820s to bring freed African American people back to Africa. The idea that blacks were unable to “better” themselves and only in “Africa, the land of their fathers,’ could [they] find true freedom and equality.”
The Puritans’ Exodus story was justified by religion, yet they were unable to recognize the plight of the “invisible” African slave they transported with them. So by reclaiming their homeland, blacks decided to go back where they felt they had equal fitting and would have success. These children were made bastards then snatched from the womb of their mother land, suckled from the breast of a woman that never wanted them yet fed them so they can merely function as subhuman counterparts, always longing to be treated like their surrogate blued eyed brother. It is the introduction of the emigrants’ inverse way of thinking is why I think this essay is so powerful.
Thomas does not stop there. Through Coker’s Exodus journal, we find out that he parallels his journey with the immigrants and his role during the journey to Moses’ story, while Thomas holds Coker’s opinion of himself in one hand, she juxtaposes Coker’s true nature in the other. He reigns over the other emigrants and forms a type of elites approach. While Coker claims to be a liaison for the African American emigrants the white ACS agents on the ship, he keeps information from them. When the agents inform the emigrants that they plan to colonize they different areas in Africa when they arrive Coker starts to feel a little pressure and uneasiness from his fellow “emigrants.” He calls a meeting with only the men on the voyage and all but two comply. He makes the white ACS agents seem “god-like” to the “obedient” emigrants.
Once they do get to Africa things go well for Coker. He dines with important people and he begins to oversee the difficult development of the colony. He also begins to push Christianity on the natives. The emigrants become reluctant and seek help from and African leader, Kizzel. Coker’s family is shipped to Africa and more emigrants arrive, but the ideal African Promised Land is never fully reached. “Coker’s unfulfilled Exodus” is the main focus of the article.
I truly believed that this article should become apart of the course because it is so complex on so many levels. First you get the inverse of a story we have always been told. Then you get a story of a man that, I believe, starts with good intentions and then with power caves nothing short of tyranny, which indicates that blind ambition brings upon his demise and it did not matter his race.
Word Count: 602
Kayne West’s, All of the Lights, music video is artistic, personal, and thought provoking from the beginning to the end. It begins with a young girl, seemingly alone, scaled against a very large world with just the beat in the background. The first scenes are in black and white and suggest bleakness and sadness as the young girl wonders the streets alone. The beginning scenes are ironic since the video is called “all of the lights” and these scenes are void of any. The story starts off lightless, which indicates that Hype Williams, the music video director, is trying to juxtapose the beginning scenes to those that follow. We do not know who this young girl is but I think that is done on purpose; not giving a name to the young girl means that she could be anyone or everyone. In these scenes the world (i.e. buildings, trees, and automobiles) seem so large as the young girl crosses streets. Williams’ usage of scale overly emphasizes the young girl’s aloneness.
The next scene opens as the girl turns and lights begin to flash around her. The words of the lyrics then flash in neon lights on a black background as Rihanna sings the chorus. As the words flash across the scene you feel like you have long lost the young girl from the beginning of the video. Then around 1:50 you see a stripper in the midst of the flashing words. Could that be that young girl? Why else would Williams put it there?
You meet Kanye West with a flashing red background and him completely blacked out. All you see is the outline of his body and hear his voice. I think the usage of red in the background suggests anger. Kanye is known for his violent outburst and plain rudeness. (I guess a flash back to the MTV awards and Taylor Swift incident would help drive this point home.) The red is befitting for Mr. West. As Kanye tells the story through rap it unfolds on the screen. It jumps back and forth to the story and Kayne. The story is shown in shadow and color. The characters are always blacked out (shadowed) to where you can only see the outline of their bodies, and the background is colorful flashing light. Kanye’s scenes are done oppositely. He is in full color and his background is black with white flashing lights. I think it is to separate the story from the man. We so easily place the artists in their music, but this may suggests that Kayne is purposefully removing himself from his story.
When he starts to speak about the daughter in the story he does not go back to showing the story. He is the main focus of the section. This section jolts me back to the beginning of the video. I ask myself is this his daughter. Is this the little girl that he fears will grow up in the “ghetto university,” wondering the streets looking for her dad? And then we suddenly flash to the face of the little girl. She is the daughter he is talking about. The last scenes with Kanye West present have him standing on the police car blacked out again with just the red, white, and blue lights flashing. This may suggest that he is nothing in America (red, white, and blue lights and him now being blacked out) and his future is inevitable, jail (the police car).
The video ends with the words of the chorus flashing and then finally just All of the Lights flashing until a completely black screen appears.
“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”