Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song

Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song

Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song

Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song

Synopsis

This work is an in-depth analysis of the full breadth of Sojourner Truth's public discourse that places it in its proper historical context and explores the use of humor and narratives as primary rhetorical strategies used by this illiterate ex-slave to create a powerful public persona. The book provides a comprehensive survey of the life of Sojourner Truth, and includes a unique and authoritative compilation of primary rhetorical documents, such as speeches, songs, and public letters.

Excerpt

According to the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision, she was not a citizen and therefore not an American. Given the rhetorical standards of the age--a Webster, a Calhoun, a Clay--she was not an orator. Having achieved no forensic acclaim at the bar of deliberative distinction in state or national legislative assemblies; having never preached from a major pulpit or delighted epideictic audiences with elegant after-dinner speeches or spread-eagled Fourth of July orations; and having never spoken her way to elective office, how could Sojourner Truth be conceived as a great American orator? Well, clearly she was an American, but perhaps "great" and "orator" are still contested. But professors Suzanne P. Fitch and Roseann M. Mandziuk make the case against such a presumption, if one exists against Truth.

In their prima facie case, Fitch and Mandziuk demonstrate that Truth was a constant, prophetic, black American speaker, a voice crying in the wilderness much as John the Baptist functioned in his time. Whereas John prepared the way for sacred redemption, Truth blazed the rhetorical route for secular salvation for black people and for females. Unlike many prophets who had no honor in their own country, Truth sojourned successfully in the United States before and after the Civil War.

The authors have assembled a much-needed book on Truth's rhetoric, and their contributions merit notice. By situating their research in a plethora of primary sources, they have been able to clarify biographical problems, explicate contradictory speech texts, and debunk several myths that surrounded Truth and her speaking. In a word, their endnotes are impressive. Fitch and Mandziuk also explicate Truth's rhetorical use of humor, a subject that is underappreciated in persuasive theory. On this topic, the authors fortunately capture the correct balance of using theories of humor to explain Truth's effective speeches without belaboring theories at the usual expense of rhetorical criticism. Narrative theory . . .

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