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"What does history mean? And how is its meaning conveyed through language?" It seems as though these are two questions that we find ourselves asking, not only in this class, but in life outside of the classroom, at least I find myself asking this occasionally. Language, the universal bond that has never been formed, not then, not now. Language is a tool to separate, not only lives, but history, people, mankind. It is a means to misinterpret others, to choose not to understand them. Such was the way in Hugo's book and such was the way that the world has always worked. It is easy to judge someone when you can't understand what they are saying, it is easier to objectify, enslave, beat, torture, rape, and massacre them as well. The separation of people through language makes it easy to keep them separated. But language also has the ability to unify. In the book, Pierrot speaks both French and Spanish fluently. This, along with the fact that he is highly intelligent, "Herculean" in proportions, and compassionate towards his people makes him a perfect "King". The ability to communicate to all people, though, is an important ability. Because he could speak the major languages of the land, as well as the jargon, he was able to unify his people. It was this that held him above the rest. I think that this is an interesting characteristic that Hugo attributed to Pierrot. He made Pierrot the perfect leader, a god among slaves, a savior amidst the oppressed.


Evan Gallagher



Victor Hugo's use of the story within a story is very interesting with relation to what Evan said about language. Although these characteristics were given to Pierrot by Hugo, he is telling the story through Leopold d'Auverney, who is a very biased narrator. Although he claims to have had certain reactions to Pierrot and other events in the story, we know that he is ultimately bases his description on his final, positive, view of Pierrot. The attributes given to Pierrot also never really excede the descriptions of d'Auverney. Although Pierrot is physically stronger, d'Auverney saves his life a few times (in the beginning) and is always portrayed as being benevolent. He is a huge contrast to his uncle and the other white men around him and I found myself not believing him completely. He is also portrayed as being a great leader and his men respect him. The two men are portrayed very similarly.


Erica Osterloo


I must say that I think that Evan's interpretation of language as portrayed in Hugo's is a bit stark. I cannot dispute that language is a powerful way to influence and oppress a people; it also has the ability to do the opposite. To rebel or work against another power one must first understand that power and what exactly makes it powerful. It is true that historically man has taken undo pride in their native tongues, particularly the English, even though language was developed for the base purpose of communication. But like anything else if you can master something you realize that it is only as powerful as the collective whole (or at least those in power) believe it to be. I think that whether or not Hugo intended it , his story demonstrates how individuals can attain agency by utilizing the resources at hand. Pierrot masters both languages and enables himself bring his people together. Words in themselves are arbitrary (as Saussure was so eager to point out) it is our personal use of these tools that make them so powerful, so useful. Also (I apologize, I'm going on a tangent) it must be considered that the words themselves are not enough, language is a craft. In order to say anything worth remembering one needs to be creative and artful. Words can paint pictures and build empires, but only in the hands of a master. A person may learn a language and yet never truly engage it. I may have read too deeply into Hugo's tale but I think it empowers the reader to realize that we can all change our realities by using the what is available.

Alyssa Dytko



Since we are on the subject of language I am going to continue Alyssa's tangent. I agree with Alyssa. The language is something that is useful for commincation. And as Ayssia has stated above that only language is useful if something is taken within a whole. Not only did Pierrot master two languages but his actions also produced the support from his people. Language or even words can be put into a creative or knowlegable ways but if that person is not showing his beliefs he will not be taken seriously. "Actions speak louder than words" (Sorry for such a cliche phrase) If Pierrot himself did not show his support or his way of belief there would have been no support from the people.

Lizz Leidel



--I couldn't help but focus on this one quote on page 68 that I kept coming back to throughout the reading, "while there is nothing dishonourable about being a slave, there is something thoroughly degrading about being domesticated". This is in reference to Habibrah, his uncle's jester slave, which I found to be a fascinaiting point of view, especially coming from a white man, and could perhaps also be a foreshadowing into the revolution. To start, I found d'Auverney's view on slavery interesting because he never really comes out and says it but he seems to be in support somewhat of anti-slavery, judging from his inability to converse about serious matters, especially the slave trade, and his discontent with the treatment of the slaves. Therefore, I really liked this quote because he really emphasizes his discontent with the treatment of the slaves by essentially saying that he honors them for enduring the hardships and beatings on their bodies and minds, while at the same time siding with them in feeling a sense of hatred for this slave that will WILLINGLY submit himself to the other side to catch a break. In other words, this sense of honor he finds is in the slaves reluctance in allowing themselves to be "domesticated" by the white man.


I also found it interesting that how he emphasizes again how the slaves "did not appear to hate him" (refering to Habibrah) which he could not understand, since he himself. I also think he is presenting this idea of sumpressed hatred as a possible precursor to the "hatred for the volcano that had been bottled up for so long" (page 71). He is presenting this idea with fear, and I can agree in finding it terrifying to think about the masses of black people who were abused and destroyed relentlessly, which would only be normal for it to lead to such a revolt. I find this so interesting that the colonizers refused to see this, especially after just seeing and continuing to presently see the same type of bottled up hatred catalyze the French Revolution, why would it not make sense for this other mass of bottled up submission and hatred not breed another Revolution? Is it becasue they viewed the blacks as inferior to humaity? Maybe they didn't think they were capable of such power and emotion? Regardless, I think Hugo did a good job of presenting how this power struggle between the colonizers and the slaves was not only bloody and exhausting to all the bodies involved, but also how it had the power to drain all emotion from both sides as well.- -


Jillian Winn--




Hopefully, I don't have to post this a third time... ;)

Victor Hugo’s version of the Haitian Revolution is quite different from the one we’ve examined in the past. It’s not treated with quite the immediacy as The Black Jacobins, nor does it take its subject matter quite as seriously. The two representations, other than sharing a few geographical and aesthetic similarities, could be about completely different events. Of course, James’ book is a narrated history while Hugo’s is a work of fiction. But does that necessarily make James’ work more accurate than Hugo’s? I’m sure that Hugo’s version of the Haitian Revolution was a depiction far closer to the average European of his time, and he lived chronologically nearer to the event. Of course, the exigencies for writing were completely different – James aimed to tell the forgotten story of a slave revolt, and the young Hugo, I suspect, was perhaps only trying to write something with an interesting setting and characters. But his version of the Revolution, with the caricatured blacks and the always-right white male, is still a far different narrative than the one we’ve come to accept as “true.” Do we discount it?


Bryan D. Peach


Erica, you're right in that Victor Hugo's stories are often centered around a down-and-out individual who uses his resources to make something of himself. Yes, this is a very simplified sort of explanation of Hugo's work, but it holds water. At any rate, I disagree with my brother's assertion that somehow Hugo's fictional take on the revolts somehow trivializes the memory of the event because he was simply "trying to write something with an interesting setting and characters." And I think that although he was still trying to form a political opinion at the time, his story was borne out of a desire to understand and interpret France's missteps in the Caribbean. Interestingly enough as I researched this book, I found that 1) Victor Hugo first published it when he was a teenager (talk about the agency of language) and 2) that he had written the first version in three weeks in order to win a bet. But most importantly, the slave revolution in Haiti, and in particular, Toussaint L'Ouverture, interested him enough to prompt him to write a book about a slave uprising. Afterward, I read that he became something of a "national hero" in Haiti. Given Hugo's political beliefs (anti-death penalty in the 1800's?) and his eventual exile, I think that this book marks an early attempt to understand or deal with his scoial concerns and their relation to Haiti, not a trite attempt to get people to read a cool story. But I could be wrong. So, maybe this would all would be something worth discussing. Has anyone else found out anything about the beginnings of the book?


Brandon Peach


When it comes down to deciding whether or not a work is "true" or "Accurate" we should ask, is it true or accurate to who? Who saw history occur and wrote it down? Who is telling us what happened? Hugo knew what was happening in Haiti so he was able to write about it through his own experiences, this may have mostly been stories and hearsay, but who to say it isn't the truth. James wrote his tale a over a hundred years later, and used historical documents to produce a "scholarly" text instead of a Novel. we had discussed how James' text was pretty much ignored for the better part of half a century, while Hugo's work was a masterpiece upon completion. Being his first work, any fan of Hugo's writting will go back to this and analyze Hugo as a writer. We must look at this tale for its content in the historical realm. Just as was said before, the use of language in conveying meaning to others. "Language is a virus from outer space" said Burroughs. It only confuses us and separates us more and more. It drains us of communication with others to the point that we must learn to speak with others. Such differences create tension between people. fighting occurs, stories are told to remember, languages are changed and some lost, and with them the tales of ancestry. Matt

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