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Frederick Douglass and the Limits of Knowledge

  • Michael Borgstrom
Chapter
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Part of the The Future of Minority Studies book series (FMS)

Abstract

The process of epistemic identification (both its promises and its challenges) finds perhaps its most poignant expression in the genre of the slave narrative. Unlike other literary forms, such as the novel, the slave narrative faces a discrete set of predetermined expectations in relation to both authorial identity and narrative intent. Readers know these texts, fundamentally, in two related ways: as black-authored accounts that trace a literal and psychological escape from slavery; and as strategically political tools to recruit sympathetic white readers to the abolitionist cause. Accordingly, the genre is structured by a series of assumptions concerning author and audience. How these texts are written is directly linked to how (and by whom) they are read. Purpose determines their composition; audience dictates their content.

Keywords

Personal Identity Racial Identity Authorial Identity African American Culture Epistemic Perspective 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    William L. Andrews, To Tell a Tree Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760–;1865 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 17.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Valerie Smith, Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings (New York: Routledge, 1998), xix.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Houston A. Baker, The Journey Back: Issues in Black Literature and Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 43–45.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    David Leverenz, Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1989), 121.Google Scholar
  5. 27.
    William Lloyd Garrison, preface to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself by Frederick Douglass (New York: Norton, 1997), 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Borgstrom 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Borgstrom

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