Up from Slavery is an autobiography of Booker T. Washington, which came out by the dawn of the twentieth century. It is different in a way that a Black author has used humor to highlight slavery than use misery and suffering to talk about it. He wants his readers to believe that slavery was as much useful for the black population as it was to white population. Washington adopts a positive approach that involves humor, in discussing the African American struggle. His indifference to racial riots, black killings, and protests make him a ‘destructive’ social activist, whereas, his positive critics understand his point of humor and remarks, terming them to be in favor of black population but with a different approach. They term his approach to be a ‘mask’, yet to highlight the black problems. In this way, he is not adopting a negative tone to describe slavery. Surprisingly, he makes jokes of racist nature while compromising over the black struggle. He does not seem to care much about black protests, riots, killing of blacks, and oppression of blacks by whites. He takes a hopeful approach to describe the future of the two opposite races in the United States.
In his first section of Up from Slavery, he discusses his childhood period of being a black slave. He describes his childhood as a black individual, who had seen everything in the context of food. Perhaps this is the reason for his focus on economic freedom of the black than the social equality and racial uplift. At one place, when he sees white women eating ginger-cakes, he wished to eat ginger-cakes just as those white women one day (Washington 45). This indicates how he wanted to be economically free just as those white women, which probably gave rise to his ‘subtle’ mechanism to accomplish the goal of freedom.
Washington had a blazing craving for education and portrays the school building as a heaven. He likewise observes that notwithstanding their lack of education, the slaves of the time were very much educated with reference to what was happening in the other parts of the country, particularly in regards to the condition of the Civil War. This was accomplished through grapevine technique, in which the slave who was sent to the mail station to gather the mail would wait sufficiently long to catch the discussions of the whites while getting their mail. The slaves spread the word to the other slaves after listening to the news. These details are included in his book to shed light on the importance of black education and economic participation. It is interesting to notice though that he made fun of such situations.
One wonders upon his use of humor to make jokes of the black struggle. It can be understood as a literary mask and literary device to highlight the pain and suffering of the black community in a ridiculous way. Perhaps, whites will feel shame and disgust on their behavior towards the African American community or they may be moved by the desire of ginger-cake in a black child’s heart. The reader can understand while he goes on reading the book that the author’s sole aim is to highlight the black issues in a subtle tone, to not offend any reader, but deliver his message effectively.
In his work Up from Slavery, Washington abstains from putting fault about the organization of slavery, going to far as to express that the previous slaves are in a superior position than dark individuals in any other part of the world. However, he doesn't legitimize the foundation, yet at the same time guarantees that the black man got almost as much out of slavery as the white man. While whites turned out to be less independent, figuring out to consider manual work to be something to be embarrassed about, blacks frequently comprehended a workmanship and figured out how to struggle towards economic and individual freedom. Washington’s views are complex and they need to be comprehended before even understanding them in their real sense.
While Washington uses many metaphors and themes in order to deliver his message and perspective, he also ensures that the reader can understand and grasp the use of those metaphors. For instance, the use of coal mine, which was a reality in Washington’s life, as he worked in a coal mine, is to depict the condition of the black community at large. This means that he knows where to hit to make his point as a coal mine is dark and hopeless place to him, while he would struggle out to come out of it. That coal mine is a symbol of black life, but the hope lies in his idea of struggle and hard work.
In the light of discussion, it can be concluded that slavery was not a curse to Washington as he perceived it as a ‘training mechanism’ that made blacks better individuals in many senses than the white population. To him, freedom and emancipation had a different meaning, which required a different route to the final destination. Moreover, he did not care much about making jokes about black community that implies his ability to laugh at his own community, which could act as a breeze in an already suffocated environment of suffering, sabotage, and slavery.
Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue. Print. 34-78.