Up from Slavery: Metaphors
Casting the bucket
In Chapter Fourteen, Washington uses the story of a ship lost at sea and a crew dying of thirst to explain how they should cast their bucket down where they are to find fresh water. This was a strand of his Atlanta Exposition Address and is concerned with reminding the audience to not overlook the obvious.
The story is essentially a metaphor for explaining his argument that African Americans are a part of United States society and should be remembered and employed by the dominant white groups. It is also addressed to African Americans to remind them of the importance ‘of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man’. The issue of integration rather than isolation or segregation is also a key meaning implicit in this story.
The journey to Hampton
Although this is told literally as an aspect of Washington’s early life, the arduousness of this initial journey and the difficulties he overcame are significant to his later work. He makes the 500 mile trip with very little money and has to sleep rough while in Richmond, and this is all done so he can receive an education at the Hampton Institute. The journey, then, symbolizes the value he places on education and his later career as an educator emphasizes this further. It also of interest that the narrative ends in Richmond, which is where he gave a speech as a guest of the city some 25 years after he first slept under the sidewalk there.
Tuskegee is an emblem of Washington’s work in furthering the cause of the education of African Americans. Because of his direction, influence and policies, this became a successful place of study. Its emphasis on industrial training also reminds us that he believed in the dignity and beauty of labor and that he thought that this should be a universal truth.