Douglass’ Strongest Tool in his Antislavery Stance
Pastoralists, as aforementioned, seem to like nature, rural lifestyles, and natural resources
such as forests and others, showing their disregard for urban and civilized lifestyles (Garrard 33).
Douglass embraces pastoralism, republican pastoralism, and anti-pastoralism in his literary work;
“My Bondage and My Freedom”. He uses these tools to send a message that slavery should be
abolished and that slaves, especially black people are not ‘human crops’. Douglass embraces
three tools to advocate for an end to slavery in his text. He embraces pastoralism in several
instances, anti-pastoralism, and republican pastoralism (Douglass). His most powerful tool of
the three is anti-pastoralism which clearly critiques nature and rural life that the black people
lived, contrasted with the better lives of the masters.
Pastoralism in literature contrasts the serenity or good nature of the rural setting, nature,
and classical lifestyle to that of the urban environments and the modern lifestyle. Douglass
embraces pastoralism in most parts of his work. One instance is at the point where he describes
the rural setting of Colonel’s land. He describes a land tract that is not in use and a river with a
creek and a boat on it in a way that shows that nature has inspired awe in him (Douglass 22).
Although he does not mention an urban setting, it is clear that he realizes that there is a good and
extensive area that children can use as a playground (Douglass 22). Douglass also narrates of
some good nostalgia of his grandmother rural life and writes:
“In the time of planting sweet potatoes, “Grandmother Betty,” as she was familiarly
called, was sent for in all directions, simply to place the seedling potatoes in the hills; for
superstition had it, that if “Grandmamma Betty but touches them at planting, they will
grow and flourish.” This high reputation was full of advantage to her, and to the children
around her. . . . If good potato crops came after her planting, she was not forgotten by
those for whom she planted” (Douglass 141).
This part makes the rural area free living of some slaves look like a better life than the life that
Douglass has in Colonel’s plantation. Those in the rural seemed freer, and they planted their own
food and socialized with others.
Clearly, the statement made through the use of pastoralism is that it is better off if people
were as free as the tract of land, or the boat that sails on the creek without controls. Douglass
also discusses slaves as Colonel’s ‘human crops’ and ‘human stocks.’ This is the civilization idea
that pastoralism goes against. It goes ahead to prove that Colonel was inhumane with the slaves
that served in his plantations, and rather than setting them free as the tract of land described or
the river and the boat in the creek, he sees them as part of his dead property (Ellis 275). Douglass
uses pastoralism as evidence of the atrocities that the slaves face. This is supposed to appeal to
slaveholders and point out that they should set slaves free as nature is. Nevertheless, given the
shallow depth of the use of pastoralism and Douglass’s hatred for nature in the slaveholding, the
effect of the use of pastoralism is neutralized by the stronger appeals made by republican
pastoralism and anti-pastoralism in his literature.
Douglass embraces republican pastoralism. In republican pastoralism, the author of a
literature piece creates or embraces the use of people who do extraordinary things to become
heroes. It is a way of advocating for a certain behavior as done by a heroic protagonist. In most
cases, the heroes use nature in the process of seeking self-emancipation. In Douglass’s work,
Newman realizes there are heroic characters that use nature, for instance, the forest to escape
from slavery (Newman 128). Newman writes;
“Douglass experimented with the form of the historical romance in “The Heroic Slave,”
adopting the universalizing discourse of republicanism to represent a fictionalized
Madison Washington as a Romantic hero fighting in a latter-day American Revolution”
Douglass describes a deep forest that he is terrified about, through which a slave-breaker
will have to go through to cross from the south to the north (Newman 131). However, slave
breakers such as Madison Washington go through such forests so they can meet the white
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