Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction Up from Slavery Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

Although Up from Slavery has been criticized because Washington wears a mask that makes him seem in harmony with the commercial, industrial era, his autobiography is a social document that presents the principles of success in business and the conduct of a moral life in an industrial society. As in...

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Although Up from Slavery has been criticized because Washington wears a mask that makes him seem in harmony with the commercial, industrial era, his autobiography is a social document that presents the principles of success in business and the conduct of a moral life in an industrial society. As in the case of most autobiographies, however, the entire story is not told in Up from Slavery. Washington humbles himself and emphasizes those events that show him struggling in slavery toward freedom and education.

To be successful in his venture, Washington had to play games and work hard. Establishing a school is no easy task, and in 1881, it was especially difficult. After Washington accepted this responsibility, however, he became devoted to making Tuskegee a success. For example, he notes that one thing he was determined to do was to keep the school’s credit high. He recalls the advice of George W. Campbell, the white man who asked General Armstrong to send someone to Tuskegee to establish a school: “Washington, always remember that credit is capital.” On the subject of acquiring funds for Tuskegee, which was a necessity, Washington noted that it gave him “an opportunity to meet some of the best people in the world—to be more covert, I think, I should say the best people of the world.” Washington was not confused about the role that he was playing; he accepted this role and played it well.

Up from Slavery is unusual because of the contrasts that it presents between rural African-American life and Southern urbanity, between work and education. In spite of its simple style, Up from Slavery is noteworthy because it describes Washington’s achievements—founding a school and making it a success.

Washington portrays his life as a struggle to raise himself up from the depths of slavery to reach great heights as a founder of a school, an orator, and a leader. He shows how his life as a slave made him appreciate the values of work and education and yearn for a better life.

Washington did not enjoy being enslaved, but he did not allow that period of his life to make him bitter. Instead, he used every unpleasant experience to prove that one does not have to remain down. He tried to dispel the myths of black inferiority and laziness by showing the world that those students who studied and worked at Tuskegee Institute were real assets to society. Up from Slavery is a kind of source book for those who need proof that one can begin with nothing but determination and end up successful, respected, and famous.

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