The be benevolent patriarchs was very clearly validated

The idea or theory proposed by cultural critic Bell Hooks, that Black men sought to be benevolent patriarchs was very clearly validated in Frederick Douglass’ novella, The Heroic Slave.

In his novella, Douglass’ portrayal of protagonist and hero, Madison Washington embodied the characteristics of a benevolent patriarch. His valor, perseverance and overall love and commitment to his wife have all proven this idea.The benevolent patriarch as characterized by Hooks is one who endeavors to fulfill the role of a provider but more importantly, guardian to his loved ones. When first introduced to Douglass’ character of Madison, the audience was made aware of the dilemma he faced by seeking to uphold a role that did not fit in the environment of slavery. Trapped in the iniquitous and brutal institution of slavery in the Virginian south, Madison was confronted with the gravity of his situation. “What, then, is life to me?”(Douglass 176) he contemplated, “I am a slave, — born a slave, an abject slave, — even before I made part of this breathing world, the scourge was platted for my back; the fetters were forged for my limbs. How mean a thing am I.”(Douglass 177) he sorrowfully continued.

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His mournful soliloquy not only provided insight into the tumultuous bought of feeling raging inside him with regard to his condition but illustrated his courage; his valor. The sheer act of being away from his master’s Property could have given rise to a round of scourging with the cowskin if caught. But the danger of a whipping could only be parried by the threat of being caught uttering such ideas out loud.

Madison’s valor; however, was further compounded when he forwent all threats to his well-being and resolved to leave his circumstance for good, so as to be in a better position to help and safeguard not only himself but his loved ones, as a true “benevolent patriarch” would.Additionally, Washington’s perseverance could be noted as keeping with Hooks’ idea of the “benevolent patriarch”. Even after obtaining his freedom, by reaching the Canadian city of Windsor(Douglass 205), his main focus remained the security of his loved ones.

His perseverance in the form of obtaining financial security to sustain his ultimate goal of freedom for both him and those he cared about showed his determination and commitment to his role as a protector. According to Hooks, freedom was that change in status that afforded men the ability to embody the role of protector and the chivalric “benevolent patriarch”(Hooks 3). Madison sought not only liberty but the security to maintain social freedom for him and his family, further keeping with Hooks’ idea of what it meant to be a “benevolent patriarch”.Lastly, and most significantly was Madison’s outright demonstration of love and devotion to his wife. His soliloquy further demonstrated the commitment and love he had for her.

While contemplating his own horrid status as a Virginian slave, his thought drifted to that of his wife and her own vulnerability. “How can I leave her?”(Douglass 180) he exclaimed, “Poor thing! what can she do when I am gone? Oh! oh! ’tis impossible that I can leave poor Susan!”(Douglass 180) he further declared. The care and devotion to his wife expressed in Douglass’ novella held fast to Hooks’ theory of the “benevolent patriarch” and could be further seen in Madison’s attempt to rescue his wife from the clutches of slavery. Like blogger and author, Andrea R-M had pointed out that this idea of patriarchy most often entailed the protection of a loved one(Juvenile Instructor).

Women were placed on a pedestal in this ideological view. The view that women needed to be protected and as a man, it was an innate duty to one’s manhood to see to it that this task was fulfilled as noted in Hooks’ own idea of the “benevolent patriarchy”. Liberty was the path to fortifying one’s stature as a man during the chattel slavery era and by attaining such, the ability to protect and provide for one’s loved one, or in Madison’s case securing his wife’s liberty; is what forged the path to maintaining the stature of a man and patriarch.In conclusion, Douglass’ portrayal of Madison in his novella illustrated many of the ideas noted in Hooks’ theory.

The assertion that by attaining his freedom, he could assume the role of protector to his loved ones was clearly demonstrated with the character of Madison. His valor, perseverance, and love for his wife all proved substantial evidence to Hooks’ model of the “benevolent patriarch”.


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