Sarah A. Perkins
March 2, 2015
African American Literature Paper
African-American literature is literature that was written and published in the United States by African – American writers. Much of this writing began during the American Revolution and has continued to flourish and thrive throughout Western society. Many of the themes and issues explored within this literature include the role of African Americans in society, racism, African culture, civil rights, slavery, and social equality. Many African American writers would expound upon these ideas through various literary conventions and forms to help build their stories and create a relationship with the readers. Some common literary conventions that can be found in African American writing are the use of imagery, character, and language. Some common literary forms were oral forms, visual forms, and auditory forms. Jourdon Anderson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Maya Angelou are three prominent African American writers that composed masterful works using some of the various literary conventions and forms stated above.
Jourdon Anderson was a writer during the post – American Revolution era. His work “To My Old Master” (1865) is a letter that he wrote in response to his former slave owner requesting that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdon—, who was emancipated at the time and had moved to Ohio to find work, responded with this letter which soon became an immediate media sensation after its publication in the New York Daily Tribune in 1865 (Breed, A., 2012). In the letter Anderson tackles two themes common in African American Literature: Slavery and freedom. These themes are clearly seen through Anderson use of tone and language. At first glance the letter seems nothing more than a polite response to his former master’s request. But it is clear as one continues on that Anderson’s harbors antipathy for his former master. In the opening paragraph, he states, “I have often felt uneasy about you” (Anderson, J., 1865). He applies the word “uneasy” as a euphemism to disguise his abhorrence for his former master without explicitly stating it. By doing this, he maintains his polite language and demeanor yet successfully drives home his sense of anguish at his former oppressor with his sarcastic tone. Since this work is written as a letter, it is clearly oral in form. Which means that, by design, this work is meant to be read aloud with stress on specific syllables and words to emphasize the meaning. For example, Anderson states “As to my freedom, which you say I can have” (Anderson, J., 1865). The parenthetical he uses, “which you say I can have” provides a sense of sarcasm to the reader/listener because Anderson is underlying the fact that his former master still believes that he has control over Anderson’s life. He then continues to clarify his thought by adding the statement, “there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville” (Anderson, J., 1865). When read aloud, this statement is very definitive and final in nature, lending to his thesis: I am free and I never again will be a slave.
W.E.B. DuBois was a poet during the early Twentieth Century. His work, “The Song of the Smoke” (1907) was a poem that was written tackling the themes of African Americans in society and social equality. It is often understood as an affirmation of Black pride and Black acceptance. This poem was first published in 1907 in the magazine known as Horizon, one which he himself edited. (Thompson, E. 2001, p.215). DuBois employs the use of imagery and language to emphasize his thesis: African American lives are important and impactful. He opens the poem with, “I am the Smoke King/I am black!” (Dubois, W.E.B., 1907, L/1-2). Here he uses the image if back smoke against a grey visage. We can see that DuBois is using the contrasting elements to show that, despite the