Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Throughout college, I learned many things - many of which I have forgotten or dismissed as nonsense. The ideas that remain with me are ones that became part of my core. During an English course, we studied the works of Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning, and his words had a powerful effect on me. He wrote: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” The idea that freedom is an internal act was revolutionary and I embraced it wholeheartedly. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angel, winner of the 1950 Newbery Medal, and Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates, winner of the 1951 Newbery Medal, portray characters that assert their freedon despite hardship and struggle.
Set in medieval England, Robin is carelessly abandoned by his parents and falls ill. The illness cripples him and leaves him brokenhearted. Without the surety that he will become a page and eventually a knight, he feels directionless and useless. However, the good priest who nurses him back to health, Brother Luke, shares a common truth with Robin to console him. "Thou has only to follow the wall far enough," he says, "and there will be a door in it" (16). For Robin, these doors are his newly developed skills of whittling, reading, singing, and swimming. Rather than allowing him to indulge in self-pity, Brother Luke helps Robin learn to adapt to his new situation. Strengthened by this education, it is Robin who saves the townspeople from a Welsh siege, and finds his own wall in the door.
While Robin's situation changed because of an act of nature, there is nothing natural about how Amos Fortune, formerly At-mun of the At-mun-shi, was ripped from his homeland and enslaved. Throughout this true story, Amos remembers that he is an African prince and no matter what external changes occur, he retains his regal grace and dignity. Amos is a quick learner and gains the essential skills to one day purchase his own freedom and support himself. For him, it is not enough to liberate himself; as the years pass, he purchases the freedom for his first, second, and third wife. Even if his first two wives only live a year after being freed, he considers his money well spent. His works his entire life for a small portion of land and sky, a place to call his own, to leave this world better than when he came into it. Amos Fortune accomplished this goal in his lifetime, and when others read his story, they continue his legacy. Amos Fortune taught us that it is never too late to free ourselves from our own shackles.