Up From Slavery

Up From Slavery Literary Elements


Autobiography; History

Setting and Context

American South, approximately 1856 - 1901

Narrator and Point of View

Booker T. Washington narrates the book in the first person.

Tone and Mood

Washington's tone is optimistic, as he firmly believes that blacks and whites can live together in harmony and that the way to achieve this goal is through the type of education his institution is providing. At the same time, he clearly communicates the many obstacles he faces in building that institution. The mood is therefore both serious and optimistic.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Booker T. Washington is the protagonist. One could argue that there is no antagonist, as Washington refuses to portray the former slaveholder as a victimizer.

Major Conflict

Washington's story is a rags-to-riches tale of overcoming obstacles in order to achieve success. There is no single major conflict, but rather a number of minor ones, primarily involving money: his lack of funds to pay for his education at Hampton, the lack of money for buildings or teaching supplies at Tuskegee, and so on.


The climax is the Atlanta Exposition address, arguably the high point of Washington's life and career.


Washington's formation of a "library" while living with Mrs. Ruffner foreshadows his career building actual libraries.




Washington alludes to several people and events of his time. For instance, a journalist reporting on his Atlanta Exposition address notes, "Nothing has happened since Henry Grady's immortal speech before the New England society in New York that indicates so profoundly the spirit of the New South" (91). Grady was a journalist and speaker who helped to reintegrate the southern states into the Union after the Civil War and encouraged the industrialization of the south; he coined the term "New South" to refer to a modernization of society and attitudes in the southern states and a rejection of the slavery-based economy and traditions of the antebellum period. Similarly, when Washington writes of an address given in front of the Robert Gould Shaw monument in Boston, he notes, "It is not necessary for me, I am sure, to explain who Robert Gould Shaw was, and what he did" (95). Robert Gould Shaw was, in fact, the commander of the first regiment of black troops in the Civil War.


See Imagery section.




Washington uses parallelism most notably in his speeches, as the technique adds symmetry and balance to the spoken word. One example comes from his Atlanta Exposition address: "Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that the political convention or stump speaking had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden" (83). Each phrase begins with the same word, and each has a similar structure comparing the way blacks acted in the beginning of Reconstruction to the way that Washington advocated they act now.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

Washington uses metonymy during his Atlanta Exposition speech when he says, "Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories" (84). He does not literally mean that the head, hand, and heart - three body parts - are being educated; rather, these terms are used to stand in for the ideas that people are learning to think, work with their hands, and become better people. He uses synecdoche in the same speech when he says "Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward" (84). It is not hands on their own that will pull, but rather the people to whom those hands belong; thus, the name of the part (hand) is being used to refer to the whole (the person).