Freedom and Opression in Literature


Freedom. The basic, yet insubstantial, ideal for which America was founded. Described as liberty, autonomy, or sovereignty, freedom is possibly the most common basic right of humans. Despite this commonality, it is perhaps the one word in the dictionary that has an extraordinarily individualistic meaning to every single person. The studied authors of American literature represent this belief in each of their writings. The coercion of personal freedom is one of the worst travesties one might ever face, as many individuals did face in our readings. Predominantly Native Americans, Blacks, and women are found most commonly oppressed due to ignorance of others and society of their respective times.


Native Americans, perhaps, embody the purest thoughts of simple freedom. "We came to these mountains about us; no one lived here, and so we took them for our home and country" (277), Cochise says in his narration, “I am alone.” During the westward expansion of the mid and late 1800s, Native Americans were stripped of their freedom, along with their land. He illustrates not only why Native Americans love their freedom of land and nature, but also why this freedom should not be oppressed and why Native Americans should not be forced from their homelands. Charlot also supports this: "We cherished him--yes, befriended him, and showed [him] the fords and defiles of our lands" (280). Native Americans, according to Charlot, were willing to compromise with the white man and share their land as long as they could maintain their freedom and land. Eastman also supported Charlot’s compromise. In his work “From the Deep Woods” (633), he says, “There is only one thing for us to do and be just to both sides. We must use every means for peaceful settlement in this difficulty” (639). Whites, in ignorant belief that Native Americans had no freedoms, savagely invaded Indian settlements and camps, as Eastman continues, “Troops opened fire form all sides, killing not only unarmed men, women, and children, but their own comrades who stood opposite them, for the camp was entirely surrounded” (644). Here, freedom is atrociously stripped with the repression of the Native Americans.


Although freedom has different individual meanings for each of the African-American writers we have studied, they all translate freedom into the achievement of equality, esteem, and full rights and emancipation equivalent to those of whites. Booker T. Washington vividly illustrates the sacredness of his freedom as he recalls his own experiences as a slave in Up From Slavery (581). He is a prime example of someone who is proud to the utmost degree of his personal freedom, and that of his entire race; with this, he tells how Blacks now must keep themselves free and bring themselves up to the freedom of whites. He says, “When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American war…then decide within yourselves whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live for its country” (611). More sanguine with his poetry, Langston Hughes’ “I, Too” (1733), implies that the black man today is seen as beneath whites and still less than human, despite emancipation almost a century before. The narrator tells of his woes of being “the darker brother” and how whites, shown when he is sent to eat in the kitchen when company comes, demean him. Optimistic, be brightens his tone, “Tomorrow, I’ll sit at the table/When company comes” (1733). He reminds himself and the reader that one day soon, he will be a racial equal to whites and they will be “ashamed” for belittling him, seen when she says, “I too, am America” (1734). In “The Wife of His Youth”, Charles Chesnutt writes a symbolic romance to show his personal views on freedom in the antebellum period. Once the wife of his youth, ‘Liza Jane, finds Mr. Ryder, the husband of her own youth, Ryder is faced with the chance to maintain his self-attained freedom of high-class mulatto society, or return to ‘Liza Jane, allowing himself to harbor the freedom of fate in this situation. Finally, Zora Neale Hurston exhibits her racial freedom proudly in “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” written