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Brian Lindner Research Writing 109:2 Mrs. Linda Clary 6 October 2010 Analysis of Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes The American Presidents have a distinct aura that surrounds them and covers their true identity with a faulty exterior, only portraying stoic, standup men. Elizabeth Keckley in her memoir Behind the Scenes gives us an inside look at President Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, as well as a look into her own life. Elizabeth Keckley was a black slave who bought her freedom, and worked for rich families as a seamstress, including working in the White House for Marry Todd Lincoln.
She became close friends with Mrs. Lincoln and one of her only confidantes in the time after President Lincoln was assassinated (Dasher-Alston 1). In her piece Keckley explains how she sees the Lincolns at some of the best times that they have while in the White House as well as some of the worst times they have. Keckley’s memoir gives us a deep look into three fascinating people’s true characteristics that would almost be unknown otherwise: Abraham Lincoln was a fun-loving, uncomplicated, caring man; Mary Todd Lincoln was an irritable, brash, strong woman; and Elizabeth Keckley was a hardworking, honest, and loyal woman.
Elizabeth Keckley Behind The Scenes Summary
Abraham Lincoln gives off the appearance that he is always conducting himself with the up-most character and decorum, nearly always being pictured standing tall with his black suit and top hat however, this is not the case Mr. Lincoln was a fun-loving, uncomplicated man. He seems very relaxed at times almost like any other hard working man of that time. Keckley Lindner 2 accounts of a time where she was helping Mrs. Lincoln dress and he comes into the room: “Mr. Lincoln came in, threw himself on the sofa, laughed with Willie and little Tad, and commenced pulling on his gloves, quoting poetry all the while” (Keckley 178).
Mr. Lincoln was also a simple man with simple pleasures. He owned two pet goats which he loved almost as if they were his own children. Lincoln is describing his goats to Keckley one afternoon and he says, “Madam Elizabeth, did you ever before see such an active goat? . . . [h]e feeds on my bounty, and jumps with joy. Do you think we could call him a bounty-jumper? But I flatter the bounty-jumper. My goat is far above him” (Keckley 179). In comparison many things are far above bounty-jumpers but to say that his goats can even compare to humans shows his love and shows how he treats them as if they were humans.
Bounty-jumpers were men who accepted the cash bounty offered for enlisting in the civil war and then deserted (bounty jumper 1). Mr. Lincoln loved these simple pleasures in life; he was a fun-loving, uncomplicated man. Along with these fun characteristics he was also a caring man. He loved his children and his wife and kept them first in his life, but also had a kind word for all he came in contact with. Keckley gives examples of how President Lincoln laughs with his children, and would be outside playing with his children, and the fun they would share together playing with the pet goats (Keckley 178-79).
It shows a lot into the character of the president that as busy as he was he made time for his children. He also treated his wife with an unconditional love. He complimented her and different times recited poetry to her. One instance President Lincoln said, “I declare you look charming in that dress. Mrs. Keckley has met with great success” (Keckley 178). The President used this playful use of poetry to both compliment his wife and be the romantic poetic husband every woman longs for. Lindner 3 The woman behind the great man was an irritable, brash woman.
Mrs. Lincoln expected the best and sometimes perfection from the people she was around. When Keckley was being hired she remembered being in a room with three other dress makers waiting to be interviewed (Keckley 177). Keckley was the last to be seen as all the others could not meet the near perfect requirements that Mrs. Lincoln had set forth. She also made very brash, hasty decisions at different points. Keckley explains this brashness saying, “After Willie’s death, she could not bear the sight of anything he loved, not even a flower.
Costly bouquets were presented to her . . . and [she] either placed them in a room where she could not see them, or threw them out the window” (Keckley 180). This quick, almost inconceivable action of throwing a gift out the window was an almost normal action for Mrs. Lincoln. Behind this brash, irritable exterior was a strong mother, who put up this front to hide pain and suffering. Mrs. Lincoln lost saw the death of one of her child and her husband cut short both of their lives. Following the death of Mr.
Lincoln, one of the toughest things to deal with her son Tad pleads with her not to cry, because if he were to hear his mom crying he also would cry and break his heart. Mrs. Lincoln then calmed herself and hugged held her child (Keckley 183-84). Mrs. Lincoln in the time that she was suppose to be getting consoled put her son first, stopped crying, and put his needs before her own. Elizabeth Keckley was a hard working, honest woman. She worked hard to become the dress maker for the first lady. Keckley tells of a time when she was making a dress for Mrs.
McClean one of her first customers, and she promised the dress would be made by Sunday. Keckley worked night and day working on that dress saying, “I would undertake the dress if I should have to sit up all night- every night, to make my pledge good” (Keckley 175). Keckley Lindner 4 did have the dress made by the deadline date keeping her word. It was this hard work and determination that led to her being the White House dress maker. Keckley was also a loyal friend to Mrs. Lincoln as well as her dress maker. She cared for her and Mrs.
Lincoln trusted and confided in her. On the night that President Lincoln was shot, Keckley was overwhelmed with concern both for the President but also for Mrs. Lincoln. Keckley says, “I could not sleep. I wanted to go to Mrs. Lincoln as I pictured her with grief . . . and I must wait till morning (Keckley 182). Her first thoughts as often as they were, were not on herself and what this would mean for her career no longer being in the White House, but for her dear friend Mrs. Lincoln and the pain and grief she must have been going threw at this tragic time.
Elizabeth Keckley takes us inside the White House, seeing the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln in a way that would otherwise be unknown, but in her telling us about them she also gives us great detail into her own life and the amazing woman she is. Abraham Lincoln will be remembered as a fun-loving, simple, and caring man, while Mrs. Lincoln will be remembered as brash, irritable, but ever so strong. Elizabeth Keckley who otherwise may be another unknown White House worker will be known for her hardworking, honest, and loyal ways.
Beneath all these characters faulty exteriors lies a true interior that only a few can know, and because of Elizabeth Keckley, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln are now seen in a different way. Lindner 5
Works Cited “bounty jumper. ” Def. 1. yourdictionary. com. Wiley, 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2010. Dasher-Alston, Robin M. “Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. ” Voices From the Gaps. University of Minnesota, 6 Dec. 1998. Web. 6 Oct. 2010. Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs. Behind the Scenes. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.