The Symbolism of the White Sails

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The Symbolism of the White Sails

For years, scientists, psychologists and socialists have struggled to define the mean of the phrase “to be human.” For scientists, to be human means the process by which people. On the other hand, sociologists interpret this term regarding benevolence, brotherly love, or possession of fellow feeling. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass creates a compelling inquiry that can shade light on the meaning of the term “to be human.”  It is an autobiography of a man with exceptional capability but born into slavery. Over the years, different races have embraced the notion that liberty and freedom should be respected by all not because they are values but rather because they are a necessity for all.

Throughout the narrative, Douglass illustrates ways in which white slave owner’s preserved slavery. According to him, they kept their slaves ignorant. He points out that many black people born in slavery were forced to believe that the state they were in was natural. The masters likened their slaves to animals. This context is defined in the first sentences that Douglass wrote. As a matter of fact, he does not know his age. He quickly adds that there is nothing unusual about this since most people like him ““know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs” (47).  From the statement, it is evident that the author is not attempting to point out something about the master’s minds. Instead, he intends to describe the state of mind of slaves, which is as a result of being subjected to an environment that had been carefully formulated and maintained by the masters. There is no room for salves to develop the idea that they too are human.The Symbolism of the White Sails

Douglass transformational process is aided by his capability to read and write. Eventually, he regards himself as human. Based on his description, it is evident that the realization of self-consciousness can only be achieved through these vital skills. He is exposed to a new world through his literacy ability. More importantly, his talent casts a new light on the world he has known for many years. He expresses his anguish by saying that at times, he would “feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing” since he now perceives his “wretched condition” that, unfortunately, is “without remedy”. It is now clear that one of the traits that set human beings apart from animals is self- consciousness.

One of the most powerful and yet elusive symbols in the narrative is the use of white sailing ships. At one point in time, Douglass is completely broken after Convey had employed beatings to force him into submission. In his own words, his master tamed him like a beast.  In the next passage, there is a surge in energy as the author describes the vision of the white sails. Douglass not only raises his voice but also expresses his resolve once more to become free. He seems to be aware that some readers know little about slavery. When using the symbolism of the moving ships, Douglass likens himself to their sails. Here, he compares his imprisonment in bondage with the freedom that he yearns for. The author is keen to use kind words such as “gentle gale and merrily” when writing about the sails, which are freely moving. On the other hand, he uses gloomy words such as “bloody whip” when describing his dark life.

You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free!” (Frederick 265).The Symbolism of the White Sails

By using the dichotomy, Douglass effectively changes some of the views that his readers had regarding slavery. The symbolizing of the white sails raises many questions. For instance, why does the narrator suddenly considers these ships as the embodiment of freedom? Could it because they were white or they seemed to fly and move like angles? In other passages, the author’s work needs no interpretation since he directly expresses his thought to the readers. For instance, Douglass narrates that:

Our house stood within a few rods of Chesapeake Bay, whose broad bosom was ever white with sails from every quarter of the habitable globe. Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye, of freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition. (Frederick 265)

Douglass is expressing his joy after tasting a bit of freedom through education. Though slaves were not allowed to receive any schooling, the author managed a small bite of it. The shrouded ghost symbolizes the opportunity that he had when at Baltimore and which now haunts him after it had been bitterly taken away.The Symbolism of the White Sails

In other passages, Douglas paints a religious image characterized by toil and torment.  He uses this illustration and compares it with liberty that slaves seek to make it more vivid. The author presents two opposing forms of Christianity. He points out that those that oppose slavery, whether blacks or whites are the ones practicing true Christianity. On the other hand, whites such as Mr. Covey practice “the hypocritical Christianity of this land.” He compares slavery to a black inscription on white paper. He points out that this darkness can only stand out if put against the white sails

 

Work Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass. Lulu. com, 2017.