The Portrayal of Agency in Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Peltier’s Prison Writing
Social institutions are human inventions. Their existence as well as their continuous existence requires collective human effort in terms of collectively believing that these institutions (1) exist, (2) have certain tasks to perform and are authorized to perform them, (3) that they are justified to do so, and (4) individuals within such institutions are warranted in believing (1), (2) and (3). By collectively believing (1), (2) and (3), social institutions acquire their reality.
Eventually, they are able to evolve a life of their own to the extent that human behavior and ultimately, social action can be modified, affected and even conditioned by social institutions. The possibility of such is evident if one considers that the aforementioned creation of social reality involves a creation of ontology which thereby leads to the formulation of conceptions of knowledge which thereby determine the modes of exercising power within society.
It is important to note that power and knowledge directly imply each other since there is no power relation that has no correlative conception of knowledge nor is their any conception of knowledge that does not presuppose a conception of power relations. From what was stated above, one is led to the conclusion that human inventions somehow mould human beings to certain attitudes and dispositions. In relation to this, there are power relations involved between and among social agents and even among social institutions.
This is evident if one considers that as social institutions evolve a reality of their own, we find these realities impinging on our very existence and liberties thereby directly affecting human agency. In order to understand this, it is important to conceive of power relations as characterized in terms of conflict or alliance between forces on the basis of different force relations within the social field. Within such a field, the human agent is affected by methods of operationalization that enables the production of orderly, obedient, and productive individuals.
Human agency is thereby determined by the different power relations that act upon individuals. Power relations, in this sense, also determine the strictures or boundaries of an individual’s freedom. Such a conception of human agency appeals to a negative form of liberty since liberty is defined as an individual’s ability to act in a variety of ways in such a fashion that not all possibilities for action are eliminated for the individual.
Within such a scheme, the individual may be properly conceived as a subject of power since he is both endowed with certain capacities or possibilities for action while at the same time being subject to power relations. Within the aforementioned conception of social reality, the individual thereby becomes an active creator of social reality since all forms of social interaction may be viewed as affecting the field of all possible actions within the social field. Such a case is evident in Stowe’s depiction of the correlation of the African slave trade as an “inevitable attendant and result of American slavery” (622).
In his novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Stowe notes the manner in which the aforementioned trade enabled the creation of the New Orleans slave market designed to supply laborers to the western frontier (624). Within the novel, Stowe follows the fortunes of a Christian man sold out of state and away from his friends and relations. The novel thereby portrays the manner in which the interstate trade becomes the moral equivalent of the African slave trade. Tom, is thereby depicted as undergoing the moral experience enabled by the aforementioned trade.
Note that Stowe primarily describes Tom as traveling from the purgatory of Kentucky to the devil’s paradise of New Orleans towards the Hell of the Louisiana plantation. Like souls within the purgatory, the slaves within the aforementioned plantation suffer “hopeless misery and toil”(51). It is important to note that Stowe’s association of Tom’s moral conversion with the Africa slaves’ journey may be perceived as an association of the terrors caused by territorial expansion toward the domestic integrity of the Anglo-American nation.
Such integrity is tainted by the inclusion of the African American within the Anglo-American nation. Within the aforementioned novel, Tom’s experiences of the varying degrees of human morality may be equated to his experiences of objectification as well as the continuous delimitation of his autonomy. However, it is important to note, that the aforementioned travel also presents the awakening the Tom’s humanity. In a sense, it may also be equated with his awareness of the necessity to construct a sense of self.
Although, one may note that such a sense of self is constructed within the Christian paradigm which necessitates the construction of a selfless self, such a construction enabled Tom’s conception of his self which may be seen as an opposition to the conception of the slave as an object devoid of identity. Another instance wherein a subjectified individual enabled the subversion of power relations within society is evident in Peltier’s Prison Writings.
As opposed to the subversion of power relations through the affirmation of identity in death evident in Stowe’s Tom, Peltier uses language in the subversion of the power relations within reality. Recognizing the role of language in the production of subjectivity, Peltier places emphasis on the manner in which subjectivity is constructed in language through the participation on the discourse of freedom. It is important to note that Peltier wrote Prison Writings in his confinement within Arizona State Prison.
In the aforementioned book, Peltier notes the manner in which hope and freedom may be achieved through the use of language. Reminiscing of the “Sky World beyond the steel and cement and razor wire”, Peltier enabled the attainment of freedom through the conversion of the self. The prison, which stands as a correctional facility thereby serves as facility for moral conversion. In a sense, Peltier may be perceived as an individual who enabled the subversion of the discourse associated with correctional facilities that being the discourse of moral savagery.
In summary, power relations and systems of power, affect the autonomy of a individual. The manner in which it affects the individual, however, is open to the individual’s subversion since the individual is both capable of having a direct effect on power relations while at the same time being subjected to them. Works Cited Peltier, Leonard. Prison Writing: My Life is My Sundance. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999. Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly. New York: Penguin, 1981. SECTION TWO: SECOND QUESTION
From the Outside: Wang’s Eat a Bowl of Tea and Okada’s No-No Boy Racial categories reflect competing notions of history, peoplehood, and collective destiny by which power has been organized and contested on the American scene. The evidence of such is apparent if one considers the politics underlying the categorization of individuals within current conceptions of social reality. An example of such is evident in the case of race and racism within American cultural history. It is important to note that the very core of a society [culture and history] are both shared and experienced.
If such is the case, the dynamics of a people’s culture and history are thereby constitutive of that people’s social construal of race and racism. The very issue of racial justice, the oppressive situations experienced by the immigrants in the United States who are considered second class citizens with a very limited recognition by the state of their claims to fundamental rights especially in the spheres of education, representation in politics, equal opportunity and treatment in the workplace, is an issue that needs to be addressed in a liberal and democratic political setting.
The necessity of such is evident if one considers that in forging a new politics of racial justice along an axis of race there has been the formation of a hierarchy of citizens which is in direct opposition to the foundations of liberal and democratic institutions.Sample Essay of Custom-Writing