Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song

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

3
"If We Can Laugh and Sing"

Almost every description of Sojourner Truth's speaking by her contemporaries makes some reference to her use of humor. Such comments as her "ready wit and quick, striking replies," "her shrewd repartees and wise sayings which will go down as proverbs among the intelligent for coming ages," and frequent references to her "irresistable" humor 1 are typical of these descriptions. Truth used several forms of humor to persuade her audiences to her causes. She often used sarcasm in her speeches about slavery and woman's rights to show the irony of denial. As her friend Samuel Rogers said of these times, "The severe sarcasm conveyed in the tone of her voice was marvelous."2 Another type of humor Truth used was the comparison between disparate ideas, applying her famous retorts to her opponents and thus demolishing them by twisting their ideas to fit her own causes.

The use of humor serves many purposes, one of which is entertainment. Truth often entertained her audiences by ribbing whites about their guilt in allowing slavery to exist and men for their lack of respect for the rights of women. Humor helped women speakers and writers in the 1800s to ingratiate themselves to their audiences, thus helping them to narrow the line between acceptance and rejection of their liberal ideas. As one critic of women's use of humor in literature wrote, "Throughout American literary history, women writers have used irony and satire as ways of asking to be taken seriously as women and as writers."3 This observation also can be applied to women orators.

Humor served as a unifying factor for women. John Morreall maintained that "[l]aughter is not only contagious, but in spreading from person to person, it has a cohesive effect. Laughing together unites people." 4 Humor helped women orators and writers unite the women as a political faction. Both groups of women often used humor to identify themselves as the victims of prejudice and men as the reason for this prejudice, thus giving women cause for uniting. By presenting natural rights arguments wrapped in humor, the women avoided some of the more serious hostile rebukes. Sojourner Truth was famous for her

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Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Foreword xiii
  • Foreword xvii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • Part I - Critical Analysis 1
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - From Slave to Freewoman 9
  • 3 - If We Can Laugh and Sing 31
  • 4 - Storyteller and Songstress 51
  • 5 - Conclusion: Folk Legend 89
  • Part II - Collected Speeches, Reports, Public Letters, and Songs 97
  • Speeches 99
  • Reports 137
  • Public Letters 193
  • Songs 205
  • Chronology of Major Speeches 223
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 233
  • About the Authors 239
  • Great American Orators *
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