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Entitles: Booker T. Washington's Signs of Play

Entitles: Booker T. Washington's Signs of Play Entitles: Booker T. Washington’s Signs of Play by Susanna Ashton “The fi rst thing that came in my way of book learning was the number 18,” wrote Booker T. Washington in his memoir Up From Slav- ery. He goes on to explain that in the darkness of the salt furnaces where he and his stepfather worked, the boss would go around and mark each barrel with an identifying number. Washington’s stepfather was always “18,” and Washington recalls that “after a while I got to the point where I could make that fi gure, though I knew nothing about any other fi gures or letters” (18). While Washington spends much time extolling his own hard work in mastering book learning in his later years, the ambiguity of his initial phrasing is telling—that something “came in my way.” The phrasing opens up the interpretative possibilities that this essay seeks to explore—by the way of what things did he encounter book learn- ing? And, equally, how were those same things obstacles? A complex exchange of signifi cation and power underlying the ambiguity of this phrase can be seen in Washington’s memoir, especially in the scenes that illustrate the mastery of literacy. These http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Southern Literary Journal University of North Carolina Press

Entitles: Booker T. Washington's Signs of Play

The Southern Literary Journal , Volume 39 (2) – Jul 23, 2007

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Publisher
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2007 the Southern Literary Journal and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of English.
ISSN
1534-1461

Abstract

Entitles: Booker T. Washington’s Signs of Play by Susanna Ashton “The fi rst thing that came in my way of book learning was the number 18,” wrote Booker T. Washington in his memoir Up From Slav- ery. He goes on to explain that in the darkness of the salt furnaces where he and his stepfather worked, the boss would go around and mark each barrel with an identifying number. Washington’s stepfather was always “18,” and Washington recalls that “after a while I got to the point where I could make that fi gure, though I knew nothing about any other fi gures or letters” (18). While Washington spends much time extolling his own hard work in mastering book learning in his later years, the ambiguity of his initial phrasing is telling—that something “came in my way.” The phrasing opens up the interpretative possibilities that this essay seeks to explore—by the way of what things did he encounter book learn- ing? And, equally, how were those same things obstacles? A complex exchange of signifi cation and power underlying the ambiguity of this phrase can be seen in Washington’s memoir, especially in the scenes that illustrate the mastery of literacy. These

Journal

The Southern Literary JournalUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Jul 23, 2007

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