Power: From Puppets into Puppeteers


How does the acquisition of power have the ability to change one’s personality so drastically?

It is said that slavery was abolished after the Civil War in 1865, after the 13th Amendment was passed. The act of putting someone in bondage because of their inferiority was thought to be ended, and now many believe that the world is one of equal opportunity, of equal rights. However, that is not the case; slavery is in fact still rampant all over the world, even in America, the self-proclaimed “home of the free.” But it is not only the elite that partake in modern-day slavery- it is the everyday person that many see walking the streets or going to work. Anyone around you can be part of modern-day slavery, as a victim or as a trafficker. The newfound power that someone gets from another’s subordination can alter one’s personality completely, from someone kind and humane to a cruel and unforgiving dictator.

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Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. An American Slave

Frederick Douglass’s An American Slave is an account of his road to freedom. However, it served as more than just a slave’s story about gaining freedom; it was a first-hand account of how horrible slavery was in the south. It documented the changes in people when they were given power, the justification people use to keep others in chains, and the living conditions the slaves were subjected to every day. In his narrative, Douglass recounts his stay in Baltimore with the Aulds, and how his mistress, “a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings,” turned into a harsh and cruel master after grasping on to “the fatal poison of irresponsible power.” How can someone so kind transform into a person full of rage and hatred? Throughout the narrative, readers witness how power drastically changes a person who was previously kind-hearted into someone who is power hungry and ruthless. Power gives a person the ability to act as they please; it allows them to control others who don’t have as much say as they do, or those who can’t fight back. In his narrative, Douglass says the “adopted slaveholders are the worst,” referring to a slaveholder by the name of Captain Auld.

“He had been a poor man, [coming] into possession of all his slaves by marriage.”

Even after experiencing poverty, Captain Auld had no sympathy for those that he put in chains. As Douglass implied, this fact made him harsher than most: experiencing poverty made him do everything in his power to avoid going back. John Dalberg-Acton said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and in the case of slavery, this quote is true in every aspect. Although most of the slaveholders mentioned in the narrative were affluent, wealth plays but a small part in the acquisition of power; it is whether or not one can properly use that wealth to gain power. Power is what matters.

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John Dalberg-Acton

Wealth does not necessarily mean power. One can be nothing special and still have power, if that person knows how to acquire it. That is why so many people today are in slavery. Modern day slavery is not dominated by the elite as slavery in the 1800s once was. Today, it is controlled by everyday people who know how to use what they have to their advantage. Or rather, use what others don’t have to their advantage.

Ima Matul was a girl from Indonesia who wanted to go to the U.S. in search of a better life. She was offered a job in Los Angeles as a nanny, and so, unsuspecting, Matul went to the US, ecstatic at the chance to work for 150 dollars a month. Unbeknownst to her, she was headed towards a live of modern-day slavery: working 7 days a week with no pay, harsh treatment, and against her will. Luckily, she was able to escape, but her captors were never brought to justice. This is the case for many of those who escaped- their captors were never charged due to insufficient evidence against them. Matul’s captors were naturalized citizens from Indonesia. They were neither rich nor influential, but they found a way to prey on others’ weaknesses and exploit them. In this way, they were able to gain power, changing them from everyday citizens into manipulative and cruel slaveholders. Traffickers also have the ability to go undetected because

“There is no profile for a trafficker and no profile for a victim.”

The difficulty of pinpointing who could be a trafficker and who could not gives more power to the captors, because the obstacle that authorities face in finding the traffickers give them more room to act. They don’t have to worry about being caught, and even if they are caught, most of the time there is insufficient evidence, and the captors leave unscathed.

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Ima Matul

Ima Matul, like Frederick Douglass, was able to escape her captors and find a better life. However great her feat, she is only one of 20 or 30 million victims of modern-day slavery; there are many others who are not as lucky as she is. There will always be people who use power to wrongly enslave others, but as with Matul, there is hope for all of them to escape. Both Douglass and Matul play a role in the society as abolitionists, Douglass in the 1800s and Matul in today’s society. Matul was recognized by then-President Barack Obama as a hero in today’s abolitionist movement, and as a survivor of slavery, she is now a “powerful speaker and advocate for the rights of immigrant laborers in the United States.” Ima Matul has garnered enough attention with her story to use her influence and speak up against slavery. She has used this influence and power to turn herself into a survivor of slavery, not a victim of slavery. Power has allowed Matul to transform from a helpless victim to an influential survivor and abolitionist of today’s society.

Ima’s story: what she experienced and how she escaped

In the video, Matul shares her story, and how she was brought into modern-day slavery: how she was duped and manipulated. Matul ran away from home to get away from an arranged marriage, only to be enslaved once again. Both Matul’s parents and captors had a certain power over her that allowed them to drag her into something that she did not want: arranged marriage and forced domestic labor. This shows that even parents can, in a way, be traffickers. The power the parents had over Matul caused her to be forced into a marriage that she did not wish for. Sometimes, slavery can be seen in places where one least expects it.

Both Douglass’s and Matul’s story, though more than 150 years apart, tell the same tale: a daring escape to freedom, away from those who, with their power, exerted control and authority  over those who were not able to protect themselves. A poor farmer to a ruthless slaveholder, naturalized citizens to captors. These are only two scenarios out of many of how the acquisition of power can change one’s personality so drastically. With power, one is able to discard the feeling of weakness and inferiority by putting those feelings onto another. With power, one is able to ensure that he or she will never have to go back to poverty or subordination again. With power, one can become the puppeteer.


Cartoon depicting how Life was like for African Americans after Civil War

Even after the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished, many still found ways to assert dominance over the blacks, as seen in the picture. Whites from the south who had no influence as an individual found power in numbers, and succeeded in using that power to keep African Americans inferior. Men who before were nothing more but farmers became a body of power, puppeteers rather than puppets. With strength in numbers, they were able to control African Americans. This was slavery, but under a different name. The Ku Klux Klan went around terrorizing those who dared go against them, using the mob to instill fear. They controlled what the blacks could do, how they were to act, and almost every aspect of their lives. African Americans were now subject to something worse than slavery.

Although slavery was said to be abolished after the Civil War, power still existed. Power can be used to enslave, or it can be used to liberate. It simply depends on how that acquisition of power changes you.



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