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African American Experiences and Symbolism in ‘Up From Slavery’ and ‘Desiree’s Baby’

Jun 23, 2023 | 0 comments

Jun 23, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Up From Slavery

“Up from Slavery” is an autobiography written in 1901 for Booker T Washington. The book details Booker T Washington’s personal experiences in working and how he rose from his position as a slave child against the obstacles and difficulties during civil war until he got his university education and finally to his work of establishing several vocational schools for the black people and other minority groups who are disadvantaged to learn marketable and useful skills and work together to pull themselves up the bootstraps as a race (Washington & Brundage, 2003). However, despite the fact that the book was once hailed as a classic for several decades, it is not often taught today. The themes and tones that could explain this are diverse.

The central theme and tone in the book is the slavery of the African Americans. The deep shame of our ancestors’ role in slavery may have been a major factor why the book is never taught often. It is important for the current generation to acknowledge and do everything it can to make moral amends among races instead of having nostalgic memories of the dark days by reading books which document the slavery of African Americans. The best thing was to limit the learning of the horrors of slave trade amongst school children since it brings out the shameful and faults of the whites in the past (Washington & Brundage, 2003).


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Desiree’s Baby

Light and dark is the first major symbolism throughout the story. Désirée represents lightness while Armand represent darkness. From the onset, Arman is associated with darkness because his house inspires fear, and his estate is a terror place. This functions as a symbolic projection to the Armand’s personality landscape (Chopin, 2015). Similarly, color yellow symbolizes the way it is used. Armand’s plantation is yellow, as well as the baby nurse Zandrine and La Blanche and her son who are portrayed as black. In the story, the slaves are also described as yellow, and Armand is linked to darkness. The personality and reaction of Armand are also symbolic. He falls in love instantly as if he has been struck by a pistol shot. Furthermore, symbolism is also seen in the manner Armand reacts to the baby for being black. His character is shown as a person who rushes into doing everything and by impulse (Chopin, 2015).

The irony in the story comes in the end when Chopin reveals the information about Armand through his mother’s letter to his father written a long time ago. The letter reveals the truth Armand is black, and he is from a cursed race with slavery brand and not Désirée (Chopin, 2015).

Double Consciousness

Washington’s “two-ness” means that back Americans exists in two warring ideals in one dark body, that is as a Negro, and as an American; two unreconciled strivings, two thoughts, two souls; whose dogged strength keeps it from being divided apart (Du, 1990). DuBois’s double-consciousness means that a person always looks at himself or herself through others’ eyes, that us measuring one’s souls using the tape of the world which looks in pity and amused contempt (Du, 1990). An example in two-ness was evident during the nineteenth and twentieth century where it was and has been impossible for a black American to function as an American and also an African at the same time. Similarly, it was even more ridiculous for a black American to function as an African who happened to be a national of America. On the other hand, an example of double consciousness is where the African Americans looked at themselves and tried to function through the eyes or the expectations of the whites. That is to function as being inferior while in reality this was a tape of the world which was filled with pity and contempt (Du, 1990).


Washington, B. T., & Brundage, W. F. (2003). Up from slavery: With related documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Chopin, K. (2015). Short Stories: Desiree’s Baby by Kate Chopin. Eastoftheweb.com. Retrieved 15 May 2015, from http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/DesiBaby.shtml

Du, B. W. E. B. (1990). The souls of black folk. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg.

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