Tuesday, March 1, 2011

John Winthrop and Apess

I must be in a Winthrop mood this semester because I see him everywhere. Winthrop and Apess pieces were written with the intention of being spoken aloud. Both men wrestle with the notion of love...Apess sees love as a way of creating a more perfect Union however Winthrop sees love as creating that Union. How are Apess and Winthrop's delivery styles different?

To start things off, Apess is far more different direct with the reader "let me ask you" or even better "let me ask you, white man". Apess is more in your face than Winthrop. His questions make you feel uneasy almost shameful feeling: (p. 1054 middle)

"I am not seeking for office, but merely placing before you the black inconsistency that you place before me--which is ten times blacker than any skin you will find in the universe."

- Apess wordplay involving is genius here when i think of inconsistency i think of gray yet he paints it as black...what is he getting at?


  1. I don't know if this is Apess' intention, but its almost like he's guilt tripping the reader. You described his questions as making "you feel uneasy almost shameful feeling", which is the impression I had too. I kind of squirmed a bit. I think his point is to also make you aware of subconscious sterotyping...like thinking inconsistency as gray rather than black or any other types of assumptions we make that we dont even think about. maybe his main point is to ask us WHY that happens?

  2. Some of these techniques, once again, force us to consider genre. Yes, broadly speaking, Apess wrote nonfiction, but he also wrote what is essentially a work of rhetorical persuasion. Part of his rhetorical skill lies in his ability to write, right? He's a good writer, in short. The same could be said for Winthrop.

    The other matter at play here is the one that I mentioned wayyyyy back at the beginning of the term: the point about canonical inclusion. Apess has regained (some) popularity in recent years; if you look back to the 2nd edition of The Norton of American Lit (the one from which I photocopied that table of contents), I highly doubt that he'll be in there. In our particular moment, writers, arguably, become Important when they are institutionalized via inclusion in academic texts, like The Norton.

    So again, we should also be thinking about what Apess has to offer us by way of literary and cultural value. It's fine for him to be crafty with words. What do we get from that craftiness, though? Perhaps those are some additional questions for us to consider. And by now, we're far enough into the class for all of us to have some basis to answer those questions firmly.

  3. I think Apess uses language to force his readers to account for their mistakes, either on a personal level or for their entire community. His language invokes guilt, which is a guiding feeling for any reform movement. If society realizes how they have wronged a certain people work should and will be done to right the problem and make a more perfect union. If we read Apess’ words and feel accountable, then surely his readers at the time would have similar realizations. Apess was not the first reform writer, and probably not even the most important, but his work forced reactions and discussion about prejudice and discrimination. This is important enough to place him in the canon of American Literature.

  4. I'm really glad that you brought this up in class on Wednesday, Paul. I love the wordplay and ironic diction in that sentence, and I've been pondering it for quite a while now. To me, the color black has a negative connotation, such as of dark, evil, fear...so I think that when Apess says the "black inconsistency," he's referring to the negative self-contradictory attitude religious Whites have of Blacks and that this inconsistency is "ten times blacker," or ten times more evil, than the actual people Whites are racist against. But that's just an idea. It's difficult to grasp Apess's meaning here.

    I think the purpose of this craftiness and irony is to force the reader to think differently than they normally would about racism. I think he wants you to feel out of your comfort zone and baffled by his words, which seem to have been the reactions many of you had towards this piece after reading these blog posts and comments.