Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song

By Suzanne Pullon Fitch; Roseann M. Mandziuk | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

"Keen and quick-witted, with a memory that never dropped a single thread, she was always ready with an answer that went straight to the mark, and often withered her opponent into silence."1 This comment by one of her contemporaries aptly defined Sojourner Truth's rhetoric. Those who knew her often noted her ability to repel hecklers and challenge her opponents with intimidation and a homespun logic that could vanquish many well-reasoned arguments.

The purpose of this book is to examine the rhetorical strategies Sojourner Truth used in fighting for her causes, especially antislavery and woman's rights. Our intention is to accurately portray Truth by separating out the fact from the myth, and by providing a full examination of her speaking throughout her life. To do so, in this chapter we begin by situating Truth, the woman and the orator, in terms of how her audiences perceived her and how she saw herself. We then provide an overview of the the critical analysis chapters and the contents of the collection of documents.


CONTEXTUALIZING SOJOURNER TRUTH

Part of the fascination with Sojourner Truth in her own time was due to her physical presence. She stood close to six feet tall and was thin and very darkskinned. Her dress was often Quaker-like, and she always wore a turban headdress. Another feature remembered by those who knew her was her gestures. Her long, bony fingers would help make her point as she admonished her listeners and opponents alike for their laziness toward, or opposition to, her causes. A friend of Truth's grandson later recalled that she was "tall, thin, and angular, with a deep voice." He went on to say she "possessed a keen mind and ready wit" and when addressing an audience extended "a long bony forefinger to emphasize her points." 2 The Detroit Free Press described her as "tall, her head quite small and is set off by a white turban, and as she stands upon the platform, emphasizing her original points and expressions by gestures with her long, bony

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