Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination

Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination

Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination

Angelina Grimke: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination

Excerpt

Angelina Grimké lived her life in the spaces between, in the gaps and fissures that separated her from what was left behind and from a more perfect future. Her biography may well be read as a series of repudiations, as a coming to conviction and so to action. Yet these repudiations--of home, slavery, patriarchy, sectarianism, of the world she knew--far from crippling Grimké, gave to her character its strength, its edge and range. Such coming to conviction was usually done in silence, prayer, reading, and reflection. Acting on it never was. "I will lift up my voice like a trumpet," Grimké declared, "and show this people their transgressions." And when she did, when she lifted her voice in public on behalf of the public, she found that in creating herself she might transform the world. In the process, Grimké crossed the wires of race, gender, and power, and by the explosion produced lit up the world of antebellum America.

This book is one account of the ways in which identity--Grimké's public self, her ethos--was symbolically fashioned and put to the purposes of moral reform. Neither Grimké nor her contemporaries used the word "identity," of course, but it is a word I find I cannot do without. So much that was significant about her rhetorical practice pressed on questions of self, being, and being-with-others that I am willing to risk using a word more familiar in our time than hers. Who, then, was Angelina Grimké? The question may be answered biographically, and has been, by historians and critics as diverse as Catharine Birney, Gerda Lerner, and Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin. I wish to raise it again as being critical to our understanding of the relationship between human agency and the art of rhetoric. The question is further complicated by the difficulty of fixing Grimké very firmly within any given cultural grid. Religion? Episcopalian-Presbyterian-Quaker-nondenominational mystic. Regional affiliation? Charleston-Philadelphia-New York Massachusetts. Gender roles? Unmarried Public Speaker-Author-Debater-Married Mother-Women's Rights Activist-Educator. Class? Carolinian slave-holding aristocracy-Northern urbanite benevolence worker-utopian visionary!

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