Hermeneutics in American Literature Henry Espinoza Tarrant County College, Department of English Undergraduate Research Paper 19 April 2023
1 Abstract The nature of this thesis aims to analyze the theory of interpretations in American literature. The theory of interpretations is a doctrine of philosophy, devoted to finding effective methods to mitigate contemporary solutions. While extensive research has been conducted about this subject alone in a multiplicity of subjects, including the medical, political, and the literary world – there is little research conducted about the philosophical inquires of literary figures. The nature of a literary figures’ philosophical doctrine is crucial to understand, because it gives insight as to how these approaches can effectively be used to mitigate contemporary solutions. This research used a survey of American literary works from the 17th to the late 19th century to conduct our research. After a thorough analysis, this research has found that many literary writers’ doctrines follow a similar framework to approach issues from the time, however, it is ultimately their philosophies that effectively mitigate issues of the time. Keywords: Philosophy, Literature, American
2 Introduction Literature is an invaluable art which serves as a podium to voice concerns about a plethora of issues. Examine Abraham Lincoln’s A House Divided, setting aside its contradictory nature, this speech urged the importance of unity during the age of antebellum. Also examine James F. Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, setting aside its bias, it addresses racial disparities through an eloquent use of linguistic philosophical principles. These authors, regardless of the size or form of their literary contributions, greatly aided their cause. However, prior to moving forward, a few things must be discussed. Let us begin by defining what hermeneutics are. To put it into perspective, hermeneutics is best defined as the study of interpretation. It is essentially the process of trying to understand the message behind an art piece in a museum. While it can be a daunting task to decipher this art piece, it helps that the art museum supplies context to guide you closer to what the message behind the painting is. Eventually, after tilting your head for a bit, listening to the curator rant about the artists’ techniques, and doing some google searching on the artists philosophy, you form a solid conclusion. Although your conclusions may not be the artists’ intended message, it is this process of which you’ve endured that is known as hermeneutics – the art of extracting the meanings of human experience from preserved works of art, literature, artifacts, and more (George, 2021). Hermeneutics is made up of four subdivisions of interpretations, these are the literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical form of interpretation. The simpler of the bunch is literal interpretation, which is reading something in a ‘literal’ sense, like reading steps a cookbook, hence the name, literal interpretation. The second one, moral interpretation, is reading something that holds life lessons in a ‘literal’ sense, like reading “live, laugh, love.” The tricker set of the bunch are the allegorical and anagogical form of interpretation. The allegorical side uses
3 language as a blanket to sheath the hidden meaning of the text, like employing forks and spoons to symbolize a broken marriage in literature. It is important to note that allegorical literature uses language to subtly illustrate the hidden meaning of the work itself. Whereas the Anagogical interpretation is direct and boisterous of its meaning, like reading a sermon in church. Hermeneutics is a vital cog in conflict resolution in contemporary times. In law, hermeneutics plays a huge role in the justification of our practical choices, by clarifying what is grounds for judgement (Leyh, 1992). In politics, hermeneutics offers invaluable information to politicians through its unbiased interpretations, which in turn, is used to pass laws in our nation (Gibbons, 2006). In medicine, hermeneutics strengthens clinical ethics by putting focus on the dialogue, rather than the method (Vergara, 2017). In literature, hermeneutics is an instrument of reason towards issues like racial inequality by incorporating everything in the interpretive process (Mambrol, 2016). The premise of this paper aims to study a survey of American literary writers stretching from the late seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century. The select group of writers and their works will be subject to a thorough analysis on the philosophy the writers’ work embodies, the application of the writers’ philosophy, and the effect the work and their philosophy has onto an issue. While these findings are minimal in comparison to other works of academic literature, the information itself proves useful in mitigating contemporary issues even further, more of which will be discussed later; for now, let us discuss on the literary works in question. Identity The social framework of an identity is an invaluable part of the American populous. It is the ‘glue’ which holds a nation together by setting up common ground. Because of this, it is crucial that such a social framework is properly cared for. Such a task can be daunting, for
4 keeping such an aspect intact requires extensive work on an external and internal level. To alleviate the strenuousness of this task, contributions made by activists, literary writers, and more all help to strengthen the American populous’ national identity on an external and internal level, thus reducing the amount of work needed to support it. Royall Tyler Royall Tyler is a well-known dramatist of the 18th century, who firmly believed in absolute phenomenalism1. His philosophy sprouted during his childhood, where Tyler lived a lavish lifestyle. In his later years, Tyler devoted his career to the military, and then to law shortly after his honorable services. Eventually, Tyler’s philosophy would reach its zenith after the ban of theatre in 1774. The reason for this ban, was the result of the theatres ‘extravagant and dissipating’ presentation, with ties to British culture (Foundation, 2003). Royall Tyler’s work The Contrast explores these criticisms head on. It is in this work that Tyler uses the concept of absolute phenomenalism to illustrate the contrasting values which makes European traditions obsolete. Through theatrical techniques, rhetorical, and literary devices, Tyler transcends this play into an allegorical masterpiece. Consider the following excerpt: “In our country, the affections are not sacrificed to riches or family aggrandizement – Should you approve, my family is decent, and my rank honorable.” (Tyler, 2017) The concept of value is questioned here. What Tyler suggests in this line is the variability of how value is perceived by American and European culture. By looking at this quote from the lens of absolute phenomenalism, one can clearly note that Tyler is implying that European culture and tradition are constrained to its materialistic value rather than a virtuously ethical value. Because
1 Absolute Phenomenalism: The view that physical objects jus fiably be said to exist in themselves
5 European culture relies on monetary gain, the odds of its success, let alone its chance to survive in a modern setting are slim to none. For this reason, European values are undermined, and to an extent, obsolete. Therefore, to advance into a modern era, one must shift from European culture to American culture. Royall Tyler’s The Contrast was successful in his plight. Not only was Tyler able to sway the masses with his work of literature, but he also created one of the first piece of American theatre in the republic of America. His work ushered in a wave of American nationalism and continues to aspire many scholars to this day in their analysis of modern conflicts like microtrends, status quo, and more. Washington Irving Washington Irving is renown American author of the 19th century. Irving embodies a philosophy known as fatalism – the belief that events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. Irving’s philosophy sprouted in his later years, after fighting in The War of 1812. In due time, Irving’s ideology would reach its precipice after his trip to Liverpool in 1815 (Britannica T. E., Washington Irving, 2008). Irving’s best work Rip Van Winkle embodies Irving’s fatalist beliefs. It is in this work that Irving uses the philosophy of fatalism 2to illustrate the fallible nature of platonism3 during the Revolutionary War period. Using Rip Van Winkle, Irving effectively displays how platonism accelerates the degradation to the advancements made by the republic of America. Let us examine why this is so.
2Fatalism: The doctrine that suggests that reality is absolute and concrete, and is therefore, predetermined. 3 Platonism: The doctrine that suggests that reality is rela ve and abstract, and is therefore, in constant chaos.
6 Rip’s persona embodies the characteristics of platonism, because of his tendencies. While he is a good man at heart to others in the village, he is lazy when it comes to his wife and kids, as mentioned by the following: ". . . he was a simple good-natured man; he was moreover a kind neighbor, and an obedient, henpecked husband." (Irving, 2017) "If left to himself, he would have whistled life away, in perfect contentment: but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his own family." (Irving, 2017) Irving’s use of laziness for Rip’s character serves as an allegorical conduit to platonism and its beliefs because his character, while fictional, his tendencies and emotions all represent those who ‘missed out’ on the evolution of the republic after the revolutionary war. These tendencies with the addition of a negative environment, such as the rundown farm, all are used to note how platonism has thrived in the republic, causing a constriction of the mind and its view on the world. This, Irving states, is a problem. When one allows oneself to constrain their mind, they also isolate their mind and body into one singular line of thought. Given some time, the relevance of this tangent gradually dwindles, making the person to be ‘out of touch’ with the current world, as illustrated by the following…. "He looked around for his gun, but in his place of the clean well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel encrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten." (Irving, 2017) "As he approached the village, he met a number of people, but none that he knew, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself acquainted with everyone in the village.” (Irving, 2017)
7 The raw portraiture Irving renders communicates on the consequences of falling in line with the philosophy of platonism. Irving’s work explains how time inevitably moves forward, and moving with it is the world around us. If we are to give into platonism, then we too will be left behind, like Rip Van Winkle. Hence, the reason why we must adapt, work, and continue learning to mitigate this from occurring in the future. Washington Irving was successful in his argument. Irving successfully was able to deter most people from giving into the philosophy of platonism using this work of literature. However, while unsuccessfully ending the issue, his techniques to mitigating the issue inspire new ways onto approaching generational gaps in a contemporary setting. Human Rights Human rights are a crucial aspect in the contemporary world. These rights empower people by acknowledging their value in society, regardless of their environment. However, over the years, human rights have been threatened. Over the course of history, this has and still is an issue which America faces (Nations, 1948). To minimize the severity of these threats, it is imperative that these issues are made aware of, which is why the contributions, regardless of the individual, are important to the cause. Lydia Howard Sigourney Lydia H. Sigourney, otherwise known as “the sweet singer of Hartford,” is an American author of the 19th century. Her philosophy revolves around the moral sentimentalism4, an ideology which arose in Lydia’s early years as an educator. Lydia’s philosophical inquiries would soon reach its peak after her publication of her poetry in 1830 (Britannica T. E., 1998).
4 Moral Sen mentalism: The moral thought that involves using our sen ments as a tool to understand the world.
8 Of the multitude of verses Lydia H. Sigourney has ever written, I will only focus on Our Aborigines. It is in these works that Lydia employs her philosophy into her craft to evoke awareness more effectively and uses rhetorical and literary devices to amplify it. In Our Aborigines, the gloomy tone of the poem is intended to attack emotion and stimulate guilt in the process. Examine the following: And with a hollow groan invok'd The vengeance of the sky. O'er the broad realm so long his own Gaz'd with despairing ray, Then on the mist that slowly curl'd Fled mournfully away. (Sigourney, 2017) The use of language here is one of many techniques Lydia uses to raise awareness about the indigenous people. Similarly, the use of nature’s narration throughout the poem, is meant to illustrate Lydia’s moral sentimentalism, which further adds to the guilt Lydia projects to the hearts of the masses, in an intent to sway their viewpoints on the native Indians. Lydia’s works contributed to the voice which fought for human rights. Lydia was able to sway most people about their viewpoints on the indigenous people, the minority groups, and more. Her approach is widely used in modern media to raise awareness of certain issues still at large, like the debate on abortion. Margaret Fuller Margaret Fuller is a well-known transcendentalist writer of the 19th century. Her philosophy is uniquely a blend of transcendentalism 5and Unitarianism.6 Margaret’s ideology
5Transcendentalism: A movement that considers nature the source for humani es self-actualiza on. 6 Unitarianism: A religious movement which believes in one singular being as a means to unify.
9 sprouted during her early years, where she spent living religiously. Margaret’s philosophical ideas would soon flourish after her encounter with Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1835 (Howe, 2021). In Margaret’s work The Great Lawsuit, elucidates on the validity of the value of which The Declaration of Independence has on the American populous. It is in this work that Margaret employs her philosophy as a voice of reason, and uses other tools, such as rhetorical and literary devices to emphasize how America has failed to upkeep with its promise of “all men being created equal.” Such like the following quote, perfectly illustrates this: “It is inevitable that an external freedom, such as has been achieved for the nation should be so also for every member of it. That, which has once been clearly conceived in the intelligence, must be acted out.” (Fuller, 1843) Fuller here states that the belief of freedom must be put into action. This belief also includes aiding women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and more. While these actions are minimal in impact, their contributions, as Fuller suggests, are crucial to the advancements of creating change for it is our destiny to achieve a state of peace and tranquility. The effect of Fuller’s work argues on the concept of equality in America. Her work is considered to be a precursor to the first wave of the woman’s suffrage movement. Her work continues to aspire to many advocacy groups in modern day because her work serves as a tool for understanding solutions using transcendentalism and Unitarianism. Moral/Ethical Dilemmas Since the ancient world, metaethical debates have challenged the nature of what is considered ‘progress.’ The advancement of American civilization is crucial, however, in terms of how such progress is achieved is where the problem comes into play. Historical events such as The Indian Removal Act, despite its moral controversy, is backed up by its supporters because of
10 its potential rewards it offers. The rationale behind this law offers insight. This rational integrated into each approach is what philosophers argue to be the root cause for many of our problems, because such a way of thinking disregards the moral boundaries in their entirety. Philosophers like Voltaire believe that progress could be achieved in an ethical and peaceful manner. Whereas Georg Wilhelm Hegel argues against this and believed that war was the key to progress (Goodman, Transcendentalism, 2003). This is where transcendentalism comes into play, because its philosophical inquires approached progress metaethically by asking not of what progress is, but to what extent must one undergo until progress is achieved. Ralph Waldo Emerson American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson is best known for his transcendentalist views in the 19th century. Emerson’s beliefs took root during his studies on philosophy, where the ideals from German Romanticism, Neoplatonism, Kantianism, and Hinduism helped develop Emerson’s views. His view of transcendentalism would reach its height, shortly after his commentary on The Fugitive Slave Law in 1851 (Goodman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 2002). Emerson’s work Self-Reliance profusely discusses his disapproval of Slavery. Emerson idealizes the concept of self-reliance and synthesizes it with abolition to reflect the immoral nature of the Fugitive Slave Act. Emerson says it best when he says the following: “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” “What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after
11 the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” (Emerson, 1907) In these excerpts, Emerson shares lament towards the institution of slavery, feeling ‘ashamed’ for what America has become. In the same instance, Emerson praises those who oppose such an institution, and labels them ‘great men.’ It is also important to note that Emerson also shares criticism towards abolitionists due to their single-minded pursuit of the cause. Emerson argues that while the acknowledgement of this cause is a start, it is ultimately the course of action initiated by the people, whether that may be people of color or advocates for the cause, which can further the cause. Emerson’s work was successful in offering guidance for slavery. By employing the concept of self-reliance, Emerson was able to communicate how important it is to engage to the cause, rather than acknowledging it. His approach towards fighting for slavery is one that many modern activists use today to get their voice across. Henry David Thoreau Henry David Thoreau is a and American philosopher of the 19th century, who’s a firm believer of transcendentalism. In his early years, Thoreau’s intellectual life sprouted, studying extensively on western philosophy. The axioms Thoreau was exposed to set the basis for his transcendentalist views. Thoreau’s transcendentalist views reached their zenith during his time in the woods in 1845, where the experience spiritually transformed Thoreau (Furtak, 2005). In his work Nature Emerson explores the harmony that exists between the natural world and human beings. It is in this work that Thoreau expresses how the reliability of industrialization has hindered our curiosity and excitement to innovate. The quote “A man is a
12 god in ruins” best embodies this view, because it metaphorically illustrates how mankind is the root to their own destruction for their alienation from knowledge of nature (Thoreau, 1863). The ‘a man’ instead of ‘man’ in this quote is used to reinforce a message. The message I refer to is thus: We have the potential to start making our own connections with nature. This message is further emphasized by the present tense the quote uses, because it reminds us of the potential we have collectively. Thoreau’s Nature expresses concerns about mankind’s isolation from the natural world. Not only was Thoreau successful in his stance, but his revolutionary ideas set a base for many environmental laws and preservation projects. Sociocultural Dilemmas Sociocultural factors, such as a person’s culture, traditions, etc., are an important part of our society. These factors influence the relationship between our families, friends, and communities. Moreover, these factors build our national identity. Given this, it is imperative to minimize sociocultural dilemmas. To do so, many authors, advocates, and legislators have fought to minimize sociocultural dilemmas from evolving into something worse. James F. Cooper James F. Cooper is American novelist of the 19th century, best known for his linguistic philosophy7. Cooper’s philosophy began mid-way through life, shortly after the death of his father. During that time, Cooper wrote works of literature, which also gave his philosophical beliefs life. Coopers’ fascination with the indigenous people would eventually lay the foundations for his magnum opus The Pioneers a landmark piece of literature which hones on both his fascination of the indigenous people and his linguistic philosophy (learner, 2000).
7 Linguis c Philosophy: A philosophical a tude that employs language as a means to understand morality.
13 Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans elucidates on the racial disparities of the indigenous people. It is in this work that Cooper employs his linguistic philosophy to paint a colorful portrait of the indigenous people. The glorification of the indigenous people, in theory, would minimize the racial disparities and redefine how the indigenous people are viewed. To do so, Cooper used a passionate tone to convey this colorful portrait, like the following: “Chingachgook grasped the hand that, in the warmth of feeling, the scout had stretched across the fresh earth, and in that attitude of friendship these intrepid woodsmen bowed their heads together, while scalding tears fell to their feet, watering the grave of Uncas like drops of falling rain.” (Cooper, 2017) The use of a passionate tone and energetic language emphasizes this portrait of the indigenous people even further. Cooper uses words like ‘intrepid’ to canvas the indigenous woodsman as heroes rather than savages, using this technique throughout the work. Along with compelling characters, Cooper can shine a new light on the indigenous people by glorifying on their achievements through their actions and thoughts. Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans was successful in swaying public opinion towards the indigenous people. It is because of his work that the racial disparity of interracial marriage minimized substantially. This historical piece of literature, while carrying a mythological frame, contributed in favor to fight for the civil rights of the indigenous people. In today’s climate, The Last of the Mohicans is used to raise awareness of Coopers contributions to the indigenous people, and studies for its techniques, in hopes that such techniques can help minimize cultural/racial disparities among minority groups. Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
14 Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, otherwise known as the first Native American female writer, is a moral sentimentalist writer of the 19th century. Schoolcraft’s first traces of her philosophy began in her early years, when she was studying English literature. It would be in 1823, when Schoolcraft married Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, that her philosophy flourished. The inspiration Schoolcraft received from her husband would set the base of her literary career, which are used as focal points to understand Native American Literature (Noori, 2008). Jane J. Schoolcraft’s Invocation is a poem that celebrates native American heritage. It is in this work that uses the memory of her grandfather and her philosophy of moral sentimentalism as a tool to embrace her Native American cultural identity. The following lines eloquently show both Schoolcraft’s philosophy and the memory of her grandfather are employed: “Can the warrior forget how sublimely you rose? Like a star in the west, When the sun’s sink to rest, That shines in bright splendour to dazzle our foes? Thy arm and thy yell, Once the tale could repel Which slander invented, and minions detail, And still shall thy actions refute the false tale.” (Schoolcraft, 2018) Sych a stanza brings the memory of Schoolcraft’s grandfather in a new light, then the current light her grandfather is being represented by. The tone and use of language intwine as a loudspeaker which is used to honor her grandfather and amplify it to all who read it. The diction here, which is similar to the framework of the poem, creates a positive image with a strong undertone of passion and splendor, a sense of revival which accentuates this version of her
15 grandfather’s memory. In a similar instance, the excerpt can also be seen as a bicultural beacon. The cultural framework embedded in this poem overall, could’ve been used to remedy tensions behind Schoolcraft’s cultural identity. Regardless, Schoolcraft’s work is essential to the Native American community. Her literary piece Invocation serves as an important part to Native American History. Aside from a historical perspective, Schoolcrafts words communicate on the importance of valuing culture. Her words inspire younger generations to embrace their cultural roots and promote these words onto others. Gender Roles It is uncontested that the position of gender is challenged consistently. The reason for this stems from a plethora of issues related to outdated practices like toxic masculinity, cultural values, and more. These gender norms can cause harm and impact future generations on a global scale, which can ultimately deny them basic human rights if left unsupervised. To minimize this, many people ranging from literary writers, advocates, and many more continue to fight to mitigate these issues. Hannah Webster Foster Hannah Webster Foster is an American novelist of the 19th century. Her philosophy of hedonistic ethics8 started to rise after her marriage to Reverend John Foster in 1785. During this time, Hannah spent cultivating her literary and academic career. In 1820, when Foster helped set up the Massachusetts Federation of Women’s Clubs, her ideologies flourished. Her interest in the cause for women’s rights is what ultimately marked her ideologies zenith, with her work The Coquette symbolizing this zenith (Chopra, 1999).
8 Hedonis c Ethics: A doctrine that regards pleasure and happiness as valuable and pain has a disvalue on this worth.
16 Foster’s The Coquette is a cautionary tale which explores the root cause of the female gender disparities. It is in this work that Foster employs hedonistic ethics to question the moral boundaries of the female gender roles during her time. Such hedonistic effects can be seen in the following: "She was pleased but insisted that I should own myself somewhat engaged to him. This, I told her I should never do to any man, before the indissoluble knot was tied. That, said I, will be time enough to resign my freedom. She replied that I had wrong ideas of freedom and matrimony; but she hoped that Mr. Boyer would happily rectify them." (Foster, 1797) Freedom, as Foster canvases, is an allegory which she uses to question the concept of freedom in interpersonal relationships. Here, Foster argues that free choice is a constrained doctrine and does not idealize freedom, because such has moral boundaries which prohibit the free will of an individual. The free choice of an individual, as Foster suggests, should not be a determinant of a person’s free will, but rather, should be seen as two separate doctrines in this case. Women, as Foster eloquently concludes, should have the free will to integrate into male dominated positions, like choosing who to marry, being able to go to school, and work in the workplace – which would eliminate the moral boundaries of free choice in the process. In doing so, free will and free choice can intersect into one, and resolve the matter of gender inequality. In short, The Coquette is an ethical inquiry is used to elucidate that the female gender disparities of her time. In this work, Foster argues that these gender disparities are the direct result of a misconstruing of the concept of free will and free will. Women should be given the ability freely choose which person to marry, where to work, and learn. Her work is argued to be a precursor of the first feminist wave of the 19th century. Lousia May Alcott
17 Louisa May Alcott is an American novelist of the 19th century, mostly known for writings. Lousia’s transcendentalist philosophy arose at a very young age, being born to transcendentalist parents. In Alcott’s later years, she met with influential figures such as Henry David Thoreau, which strengthened her transcendentalist beliefs. The height of her career upon the publication of Little Women (Britannica T. E., 1999). Her experiences Alcott gathered during the American Civil War would inspire her to publish this work and causing her transcendentalist beliefs to flourish. In Little Women Alcott addresses her concerns about Slavery. It is in this work that Alcott employs her transcendentalist beliefs as a tool to argue on the importance of the position females can play to overturn the efforts of the Confederates. Her transcendentalist views are personified well with the following: “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for.” (Alcott, 1996) The soul and mind are symbolic elements here, which frame the female identity beautifully. The use of such is to illustrate the potential good the female consensus can do in times of war. Slavery is a dreadful thing which plagued the American nation, and while men are fighting for the cause directly, as Alcott suggests, women can fight for the cause indirectly. Self-resilience evokes the empowerment of Alcott’s female audience, which in theory, would sway the female consensus enough to act. The efforts made by the female consensus, Alcott hoped, would be enough to overturn the southern factions’ efforts to overturn the American Civil War. The text Little Woman served as a conduit for taking action. Women in either faction would display their disapproval for the southern faction’s efforts to reinforce Slavery, such as the
18 Fugitive Slave Act, by housing slaves as their form of protest. Other efforts were displayed through civil protest, literary pieces, historical narratives, and forming groups to further the cause. In effect, the northern faction was successful in their fight to overturn slavery by displaying the wonderous potential women could do for this cause. Slavery The age of antebellum was one of the darkest chapters in American history. It is in this time that the American populus contested with the idea of Slavery and its ramifications. For 28 years, the American populous has pondered such an idea, until 1861, when the American Civil War took place. The outcome of the War would dictate whether Slavery would codify into constitutional law on both the northern and southern factions. The success of the union required the efforts of many literary writers, advocates, philosophers, and more, for it to fully overturn the war in favor of the northern faction (Editors, 2009). Lydia Maria Child Lydia Maria Child is an American author of the 19th century, whose writings and activism imbue a philosophy of subversion. In her early years, Lydia spent living with her abolitionist parents and clergyman brother, a person Lydia was greatly inspired by. It would be in 1831, after meeting with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison that Lydia would devote her life to abolitionism and is where her insurrectionist philosophy flourished (Lemon, 2001). The work Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl is a historical narrative following the life of Lydia Child in the events prior to her liberation. It is in this work that Lydia uses her philosophy of subversion 9as a tool to reform social practices. Such can be seen in the following:
9 Subversion: The ability to transgress a gag order without ge ng caught, to break silence surrounding injus ce without being iden fied.
19 “READER, be assured this narrative is no fiction. I am aware that some of my adventures may seem incredible; but they are, nevertheless, strictly true. I have not exaggerated the wrongs inflicted by Slavery; on the contrary, my descriptions fall far short of the facts.” (Jacobs, 1861) The assertation to the narratives’ truthfulness is crucial in this text. Slave narratives then were undermined and questioned for their credibility, for such events were deemed ‘unimaginable,’ a common criticism proslavery forces took to discredit their works. Lydia knew the possibility of her work being discredited, so, she asserts her credibility by setting up a stern tone and using ‘READER’ to do so. In addition to this, Lydia canvases these events in its rawest form, with her openly voicing her sexual transgressions in chapter 10, which is further emphasized by her active and confident narrative voice to further reinforce the establishment of her credibility. The effect of Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl was large. The work was able to raise funds, which was bequeathed to the abolitionist cause. Moreover, Lydia’s efforts to the cause continued even after the American Civil War, by assisting the recently freed slaves. Her efforts ultimately secured the rights of recently freed slaves. John Greenleaf Whittier John Greenleaf Whittier is an American poet and a humanist of the 19th century. His philosophical doctrine of humanitarianism grew around an early age. During this time, Whittier spent living a humble life as a farmer with his quaker parents. It is during his mid years as a writer that his humanist 10beliefs would flourish, especially after the publication of Justice and Expedience in 1833 (Britannica T. E., John Greenleaf Whittier, 1998). His work with the American Anti-Slavery Society would be the zenith of his philosophy.
10Humanist: A progressive doctrine that aﬃrms the ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives and personal fulfillment to the greater good.
20 Whittier’s Hunters of Men is a landmark piece of poetry which embarks on the immoral nature of Slavery. It is in his work that Whittier transcends his humanist beliefs into his craft to elucidate how slavery is similar in retrospect to poaching animals. Consider the following: “HAVE ye heard of our hunting, o'er mountain and glen, Through cane-brake and forest, — the hunting of men? The lords of our land to this hunting have gone, As the fox-hunter follows the sound of the horn; Hark! the cheer and the hallo! the crack of the whip, And the yell of the hound as he fastens his grip! All blithe are our hunters, and noble their match, Though hundreds are caught, there are millions to catch. So speed to their hunting, o'er mountain and glen, Through cane-brake and forest, — the hunting of men!” (Whittier, 1834) Whittier metaphorically personifies this manhunt as a foxhunt to illustrate the grotesque nature of proslavery forces. The complete disregard for the slaves’ humanity and the animalistic nature of the manhunters are all components that Whittier uses to attack the idea of hunting fugitive slaves. Whittier criticizes that such an idea is an attack on the human and civil rights of the American populous and should never have been condoned to begin with. Whittier’s Hunters of Men advocated for the human and civil rights of the slaves. Whitter argues in this work that the institution of slavery contradicts the human rights constituted by The Declaration of Independence. Whittier’s arguments contributed to the abolitionist cause, by effectively noting the contradictory actions of the proslavery forces and noting the logical fallacies the proslavery forces pose.
21 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Frances E. W. Harper is an American poet and social reformer of the 19th century. Her philosophy, Applied Ethics11, began during her early years. Her work as a domestic would give root to her philosophical beliefs as well as her career as a social reformer. The experiences she had acquired would inspire her to fight for the abolitionist cause. It would be in 1854, after delivering a public address on Education and the Elevation of the Colored Race that Harpers career and beliefs would flourish (Britannica T. E., Frances E. W. Harper, 1998). Ellen’s work Bury Me in a Free Land discusses the cruel custom of slavery during the age of antebellum. It is in this work that Harper criticizes the ethics of the custom of slavery, calling such a custom ‘cruel and ‘inhumane.’ The vivid imagery in stanza 2 – 5, illustrates the oppression of slaves, using her “mother’s shriek” and “drinking her blood” as tools to emphasize the cruelty the institution of slavery has wrought. Metaphors such as “bay of bloodhounds” in stanza 5 is used illustrate the white men’s animalistic behavior, canvasing them as savages rather than human. The use of “prey” is used to compare slaves to playthings. Combined, these two metaphors argue that the institution of slavery has become more like a zoo and a contorted hunting game of slave and master, which, Harper argues, unethical and immoral to its fullest extent. Harper’s Bury Me in a Free Land successfully questions the ethics of the institution of slavery. Harper does so by employing metaphors and vivid imagery to visualize how cruel and inhumane slave customs have evolved. In doing so, Harper was able to further the efforts of the abolitionist movement in the fight to eliminate slavery. Frederick Douglass
11 Applied Ethics: The philosophical doctrine that applies the ethics into modern life situa ons.
22 Frederick Douglass is a well-known social reformer of the 19th century. Being born into slavery, Douglass in a life of peril and confinement, which gave rise to his philosophy of resistance and integration12. After being sent away to another plantation, Douglass was given the opportunity to learn, which nurtured his philosophy as well as his career as a social reformer. With the knowledge he’s gathered, Douglass would pass on this information to other enslaved people. After Douglass’ escape, he would continue to help other enslaved people to reach their freedom, which is where his philosophy and career reached their zenith (EDITORS, 2009). In Frederick’s What to the Slave is the Fourth of July he discusses on the state of the American populous. It is in this work that Frederick criticizes the white American populous during the fourth of July, hence the name What to the Slave is the Fourth of July. It is during this day that Frederick calls out this day as “a sham” because the celebration of liberty and equality are nothing but “hollow mockery,” as Frederick puts it (Douglass, 1852). Frederick argues the Fourth of July, an occasion where everyone should celebrate their independence and civil liberties, is an exclusive and hypocritic holiday which makes a mockery to the enslaved and considers the belief in the holiday to be nothing more than an illusion which masks the raw truth to the state of the American populous. By choosing to publicly announce his arguments on this day, America could not be able to hide its rigid practices against the African American community. Frederick’s oratory piece What to a Slave is the Fourth of July argues on the value the Fourth of July poses to the American populous. It is in this work that Frederick argues the holiday to be exclusive and fails to represent the African American populous. Frederick emphasizes this by noting logical inconsistencies like the celebration of independence being a
12Philosophy of Resistance and Integra on: An approach which ques ons the norma ve values and beliefs’ morality.
23 celebration only for the white populous and a mockery to the African American populous. This juxtaposition is what would ultimately contribute to the abolitionist cause in overturning the proslavery forces. William Wells Brown William Wells Brown was an American writer in the 19th century. In his early years, Brown spent living on a plantation. Brown would live working as a slave until 1834, where he successfully escaped and sought refuge in the Great Lakes with a Quaker, where his pragmatic philosophy13 would take shape. Following his publication of the Narrative of W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Brown’s doctrine would refine into something beautiful (Britannica T. E., William Wells Brown, 1999). It would eventually be after this publication and even more time invested in a self-study of abolitionism and temperance reform that Brown’s philosophy of pragmatism and his career as an abolitionist would flourish. In Brown’s Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter, Brown discusses the state of slavery and its ramification. It is in this text that Brown employs his pragmatic beliefs to note the hypocrisy democratic principles have towards the enslavement of African Americans. Such is embodied best in the following excerpt: “But, sad to say, Jefferson is not the only American statesman who has spoken high-sounding words in favour of freedom, and then left his own children to die slaves.” (Brown, 2000) This anecdote serves as a loudspeaker which amplifies Brown’s criticisms. Jefferson’s affair displays the hypocrisy of democracy because of the corrupt nature democracies representative display. It is a stain on our advancements to a progressive society, Brown argues, for such
13 Pragma sm: A philosophical a tude towards the forma on of concepts, hypotheses, and their jus fica on.
24 representatives do not represent the American populous as a whole but represent America exclusively. The course of actions only benefits those whose free will and free choice isn’t constrained by external forces, and for as long as our nation is represented by these kinds of people, change is but a dream and not a reality. Brown’s Clotel; or The President’s Daughter offers insight to the American populous. It is in this work that Brown raises awareness to those we let represent in congress, and the ramifications it has in the advancements of the American nation. His work ultimately serves as a timeless reminder to all of the importance of the selection of our government officials. Harriet Beecher Stowe Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American writer and abolitionist of the 19th century. Her philosophy of evangelicalism 14began at an early age, where she spent learning from catholic figures at Catharine’s school in Hartford, Connecticut. Her evangelical beliefs refined thereon out through theological seminars, theological engagement, etc. It would eventually be after her marriage with Calvin Ellis Stowe in 1836 that her Christian doctrine would thrive (Britannica T. E., Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1999). The result of her evangelical beliefs would influence her abolitionist beliefs and lead to the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Harriet’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin criticizes slavery and its consequences. It is in this work that Beecher argues how slavery has strayed us from the path of righteousness by disillusioning the American populous with the promise of prosperity. Consider the following piece: “You see,” said the woman, “you don’t know anything about it;—I do. I’ve been on this place five years, body and soul, under this man’s foot; and I hate him as I do the devil! Here you are, on a lone plantation, ten miles from any other, in the swamps; not a white
14 Evangelicalism: A movement which emphasizes reliance on Scripture over tradi on
25 person here, who could testify, if you were burned alive,—if you were scalded, cut into inch-pieces, set up for the dogs to tear, or hung up and whipped to death. There’s no law here, of God or man, that can do you, or any one of us, the least good; and, this man! there’s no earthly thing that he’s too good to do. I could make any one’s hair rise, and their teeth chatter, if I should only tell what I’ve seen and been knowing to, here,—and it’s no use resisting! Did I want to live with him? Wasn’t I a woman delicately bred; and he,—God in heaven! what was he, and is he? And yet, I’ve lived with him, these five years, and cursed every moment of my life,—night and day!” (Stowe, 1995) Christ is a tool used to illustrate the evils of slavery and show how his teachings serve as a beacon of hope. Cassy’s narrative and Tom’s response serve as this hope, because despite going through the worst, Tom still keeps going. His character and his evangelical beliefs allegorically allude to God, for his sacrifice, as Harriet suggests, is greater than any person could imagine. This selfless hero arc is used to confront readers with the harsh reality of the institution of slavery and its unethical practices. However, rather than berating the reader, Beecher uses this as a tool to connect the reader to God by establishing a promise of great prosperity to those who believe in him. This promise would essentially require collective action, but doing so would minimize America’s problems greatly, as Beecher concludes. Harriet’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a success. Her efforts greatly affected the abolitionist movement by strengthening the northern faction’s abolitionism and weakening the sympathy for the southern faction’s cause. Her work ultimately challenges the American populous to confront with America’s past and use this information to tackle current issues, like racial profiling and more. Olaudah Equiano
26 Olaudah Equiano is an abolitionist of the 18th century, best known for his writings, which embodied his natural law15 philosophy. At an early age, Equiano was exposed to slavery, and lived this way until he purchased his emancipation in 1776. The experience Equiano received, however, would be the reason for his beliefs and choice of career as an abolitionist. His doctrine of philosophical inquiry and career would reach its peak upon the publication of his work The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, a slave narrative which gives insight to slave life during the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Luebering & Britannica, 1998). Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano embarks on the journey of Equiano’s life as a slave during the transatlantic period. It is in this work that Equiano critiques the natural laws of chattel slavery. Slavery, as Equiano admits, existed in his African hometown. However, this form of slavery is unnatural. It is best said by Equiano when he says the following: “When they come among Europeans, they are ignorant of their language, religion, manners, and customs. Are any pains made to teach them these? Are they treated as men? Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its fire, and every noble sentiment? But above all, what advantages do not a refined people possess over those who are rude and uncultivated! Let the polished and haughty European recollect that his ancestors were once like the Africans, uncivilized and even barbarous. Did Nature make them inferior to their sons? and should they too have been made slaves? Every rational mind answers, “No.” (Equiano, 1789) The white man’s idealization of slavery is natural law is false, according to Equiano. The reason for this is due to a misconception of their rationale. Free will and free choice, two important
15Natural Law Philosophy: States that the moral standards that govern behavior are, in some sense, objec vely derived from the nature of human beings.
27 components which make natural laws ‘natural’ are completely absent here. In fact, these components are substituted with negative reinforcing behaviors, which Equiano states, “Is a fate far worse than death.” Due to a lack of rationale, such a form of slavery could never be natural law because the ramifications it had did not balance the justifications it offered. Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano is a landmark piece of literature of the 18th century. It is in this work that Equiano critiques the rationale behind chattel slavery and attempts to discredit it by illustrating the logical fallacies that lie within this very rationale. The effect of his work was successful, with the Slave Trade Act of 107, which marked the end of the slave trade in Britain. Women’s Rights Women, in the American populous, are the backbone of the nation. For one, women currently make up 76% of all health care jobs (Day & Christnacht, 2019). However, it was not always so. In fact, the struggle for women’s rights has always been an issue that is still being fought today. To contribute to the cause, many advocacy groups engage in civil protest, literary writers raise awareness to the cause or address their concerns about the cause, and much more. Their efforts essentially minimize gender gaps in the American nation. Abigail Adams Abigail Adams, daughter of John Adams, is an important figure of the 18th century. In her early years, Abigail spent cultivating her intellectual prowess. Her philosophy, Normative Ethics16, as well as her career grew during her time with John Adams, following their marriage in 1764. Abigail’s philosophy and career would flourish during the transition of the republic during 1776. The revolutionary spirit that spread through the republic would be what inspired Abigail’s
16Norma ve Ethics: The study of moral thought and moral language that addresses ques ons about ‘right and ‘wrong’ of the prac ces of everyday life.
28 career to reach its zenith, with her work Remember the Ladies, embodying her success (Caroli, 1999). Abigail’s Remember the Ladies communicates on the role of woman during the times of the American republic. It is in this work that Abigail’s philosophy of normative ethics as a tool to communicate the importance of women. Consider the following quote: “Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.” (Adams, 1776) Similar to Hannah Foster, Abigail frames freedom as a tool to question the ethical boundaries social norms of her time possessed. Social norms are determined by rigid practices reinforced by outdated cultural values, which have essentially established dubious ethical boundaries which have constrained the free choice and free will women have in the process. This, Abigail states, is a problem in her community. Moreover, the logical fallacies the male consensus uses to justify the existence of these ethical boundaries, which is why it must be eliminated. Abigail’s literary text Remember the Ladies, as the name implies, acknowledges the value of women in the American republic. It is in this work that Abigail confronts the male consensus of their unethical regard for women by questioning their logic which founded these ethical boundaries using a metaethical philosophy. The affect her work had ultimately contributed to the voice of the feminist cause. Judith Sargent Murray
29 Judith Sargent Murray is a renown American writer of the18th century, whose work embodies a metaethical philosophy17. In her early years, Murray received an education, a rare opportunity given to women. The marginalization of women of her time and the aspiration to have her voice heard would eventually set the foundations for her literary success and recognition of her philosophy of metaphysics. Her philosophy would be an essential tool to her arguments, because it helped her illustrate how providing an education leads to the economic independence of women (Copley, 2012). In Equality of the Sexes Judith argues on the status of women. It is in this work that Murray confronts the unethical nature of misogynistic stereotypes. These stereotypes subjectively idealize the role of women in society in a negative light, for such stereotypes evoke the discrediting of a woman’s potential and undervaluing their achievements in the process. These stereotypes altered a woman’s freedom by engraving hard deterministic beliefs into social norm, with the most notable one being who could receive an education. It is for the reason that Murray wrote the following: “They rob us of the power t'improve, / And then declare we only trifles love.” (Murray, 1790) Murray states that these stereotypes rob women of their free will. Without being given an opportunity to test the validity of these stereotypes, there is no effective way to prove the solubility of these misogynistic stereotypes. These stereotypes, Murray concludes, are an instrument of power used to ascertain the position of the male consensus, which in its own state is unethical. Women must be given the same opportunities as their fellow male counterparts in order for these misogynistic stereotypes to vanish. By giving the resources men have to women,
17 Metaethics: The study of moral thought and moral language that ques ons what morality actually is.
30 like the right to an education, the right to embrace the self, and work, the result would suffice to discredit these stereotypes. In theory, women would become economically independent and be able to prosper in American society. Judith’s work Equality for the Sexes effectively reflects on the misogynistic beliefs of the American populous. It is in this work that Murray employs her metaethical philosophy to challenge these misogynistic values to the core by establishing how these stereotypes imbued a deterministic doctrine which ultimately constrained the free will of a women to its fullest extent. To achieve gender equality, women must be given the same resources and opportunities as men to fully discredit these misogynistic beliefs. Fanny Fern Fanny Fern, otherwise known as Sarah Willis Parton, is an important literary figure in the 19th century. Fanny’s early years were spent primarily on cultivating her compendium of knowledge at the Catherine Beecher’s Seminary in Hartford. Her literary career began in 1851, working as a columnist. Her experiences here essentially fertilized her career as a writer. It would eventually be in Fern’s mid years, that her exposure to the marginalization of women and its advocacy groups would cause her literary career and metaethical philosophy to thrive (Ozga, 2017). Fern’s work Hungry Husbands explores the stereotypical roles of a housewife. It is in this work that Fern employs her metaethical philosophy to illustrate how such a role can be a tool used against these very stereotypes. Consider the following statements: “Well, it is a humiliating reflection, that the straightest road to a man’s heart is through his palate. He is never so amiable as when he has discussed a roast turkey. Then’s your time, “Esther,” for “half his kingdom,” in the shape of a new bonnet, cap, shawl, or dress. He’s too complacent to dispute the matter. Strike while the iron is hot; petition for a trip
31 to Niagara, Saratoga, the Mammoth Cave, the White Mountains, or to London, Rome, or Paris. Should he demur about it, the next day cook him another turkey, and pack your trunk while he is eating it.” (Fern, 1853) Desire, as Fern suggests, is an instrument of power which can be tinkered with. With it brings an alternative approach to mitigating the female stereotype. Women can use desire to outsmart their husbands by using food as an accord to get whatever it is a woman pleases. Doing so brings an entirely new set of possibilities which could strengthen the efforts of the feminist cause. Fern’s Hungry Husbands gives insight to the stereotype of the role of a housewife. It is in this work that desire of this lifestyle can be used against these stereotypes. By putting husbands in their most vulnerable state, women could ask for anything. This line of thought was a creative way to think about fighting these stereotypical ideas, because it was a method that no other writer pitched before. Ferns work ultimately contributed greatly to the feminist cause.
32 Discussion The philosophical doctrines literary figures imbued in their work is crucial to understand the efforts their works have on the American populous. These philosophies can be used to approach contemporary issues in a new light. Literary authors such as Fanny Fern, gave us a new approach to eliminating gender stereotypes by using such values to their fullest extent, and using it against them. Other literary authors, such as Hannah Webster Foster uses her philosophy as a means of reason to address the ethical nature of the boundaries containing women from being successful in life. These contributions, while seen as minimal, are in fact crucial to the cause. Without raising awareness or addressing concerns, the platform these causes have will crumble. These causes, if advocacy groups dissolved, would have drastic impacts in our modern world. It is important to analyze these philosophies because they can give us a stronger solution to our worlds greatest issues, and in doing so, we are setting an example for future generations while creating a better world for these future generations in the process.
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