English 1, Lesson 60 – Memorable Images in Washington’s Autobiography

Writing assignment: 500 words on this topic: “What are some memorable images from the narrative? Why are they memorable?”

    Throughout Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, he portrayed many interesting and memorable stories and images. From the cabin he lived in as a young boy to the schoolhouses he and his students built with their bare hands. These images impressed upon his readers the current state of his life and made his narrative just that much more interesting as well. So without any further ado, let’s get into it.

    The first memorable image Washington paints for us readers is that of his living space on the plantation as a child. Living in a cramped, more-than-broken-down cabin with no floor, save for a few boards covering a hole filled with yams, a hole in the wall big enough for a cat, and no glass windows, only large openings letting in winter air.

    “The cabin was without glass windows; it had only openings in the side which let in the light, and also the cold, chilly air of winter. There was a door to the cabin—that is, something that was called a door—but the uncertain hinges by which it was hung, and the large cracks in it, to say nothing of the fact that it was too small, made the room a very uncomfortable one. In addition to these openings there was, in the lower right-hand corner of the room, the “cat-hole,”—a contrivance which almost every mansion or cabin in Virginia possessed during the ante-bellum period. The “cat-hole” was a square opening, about seven by eight inches, provided for the purpose of letting the cat pass in and out of the house at will during the night. In the case of our particular cabin I could never understand the necessity for this convenience, since there were at least a half-dozen other places in the cabin that would have accommodated the cats.”

The second image I found notable was Miss Mary F. Mackie. Miss Mackie was a member of one the oldest and most cultured of Northern white families. She came down to Hampton institute to offer her services as a teacher and spent two weeks cleaning by Washington’s side. She took great satisfaction in making sure that every nook and cranny of the school was spotless. Her standards of cleanliness were remarkably high, and this deeply impressed Washington. Washington struggled to understand how Miss Mackie so loved doing something considered so demeaning for someone of her status in order to assist a less fortunate race. Ever since then, Washington did not have patience for any Southern schools that did not teach the dignity of labor and cleanliness. This was memorable because back in the day, barely any white people would be so happy to lend a hand to a black person. That Miss Mackie not only helped them out by teaching them, but also helped them clean, a job more suitable for maids or the students themselves showed a lot of character.

The third image was that of the schoolhouse Washington and his students built and maintained. They bought some land with a henhouse, a stable, and a cabin that could serve as a kitchen and some boarding. Together, they renovated the buildings and cleared land for crop to feed the students. The school staff and students together tried three times to build a kiln to make bricks, and failed each time. Washington pawned his watch for enough money to try and make another kiln, and this time they succeeded. They began producing bricks to fund their cause, and people came from all over the country to buy their bricks. Throughout the entire process of building up the school, the most amazing part was the dedication of the students. Being ex-slaves or the children of ex-slaves, they did not like manual labor and thought it to be below them. However after some persuasion by Washington, they helped him fix up the buildings, clear the land, and plant the crops. Afterwards, the students felt good about themselves and began to be happier to do these things. When the school did not have enough indoor space for dorms, some young men slept outside in tents. When the cold winter air blew, they were freezing; but they never complained. This really impressed me because while reading this passage I realized that these people were so determined to be educated that they endured such awful conditions without so much as a word in protest. Another thing I realized was that had I been in that situation, I would not have been so tolerant.

In conclusion, the most memorable images from Washington’s autobiography were those that showed people working hard and sometimes suffering for the benefit of ex-slaves in the future. The people who helped Washington further his cause were truly amazing people and I will forever strive to be as giving and honorable as them.


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