Behind the Scenes
Originally published in 1868—when it was attacked as an “indecent book” authored by a “traitorous eavesdropper”—Behind the Scenes is the story of Elizabeth Keckley, who began her life as a slave and became a privileged witness to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Keckley bought her freedom at the age of thirty-seven and set up a successful dressmaking business in Washington, D.C. She became modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln and in time her friend and confidante, a relationship that continued after Lincoln’s assassination. In documenting that friendship—often using the First Lady’s own letters—Behind the Scenes fuses the slave narrative with the political memoir. It remains extraordinary for its poignancy, candor, and historical perspective. First time in Penguin Classics
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CHAPTER I - WHERE I WAS BORN
Notice the first person point of view. This text is a memoir/autobiography, which means our speaker is Elizabeth Keckley herself.
To whom or what is the author referring with the words "my tender charge"?
The author concludes the first chapter with a rather surprising line. What do you think she means when she declares that "Slavery had its dark side as well as its bright side"? Use at least two examples from the text to support your answer.
CHAPTER II - GIRLHOOD AND ITS SORROWS
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
What do the details provided in the highlighted passage tell you about Elizabeth's character?
Observe the details in this paragraph. The author is providing you with a great deal of characterization here. Watch the following video clip to find out more about character development. (This annotation contains a video)
CHAPTER III - HOW I GAINED MY FREEDOM
What does Elizabeth mean when she says, "With my needle I kept bread in the mouths of seventeen persons"?
Take a moment to observe Elizabeth's strong word choice, figurative language, and description in the opening paragraph of Chapter III. In particular, notice the line "a thousand times no!" This line is quite similar to a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, wherein Juliet proclaims, "A thousand times yes!" Do you think Elizabeth is well read, or is this similarity just a coincidence?
Watch the following video on figurative vs. literal language, and then observe the figurative language in this highlighted passage. What words do you see being used in a figurative (nonliteral) manner? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the author's purpose in including so many original documents in the close of Chapter III? What impact do these factual documents have on you as the reader?
CHAPTER IV - IN THE FAMILY OF SENATOR JEFFERSON DAVIS
What does the author mean when she says "over these faults death has drawn a veil"? Refer to the entire highlighted excerpt to gain more context clues if needed.
The author's reference to the "bloody war between the two sections of the country" is a reference to the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.
Based on the details provided in the highlighted excerpt, what can you infer about Elizabeth's character?
CHAPTER V - MY INTRODUCTION TO MRS. LINCOLN
Observe Elizabeth's determination. When else have you noticed her determination and perseverance working for her advantage?
Notice the shift in Mrs. Lincoln's behavior throughout this highlighted passage. How does Elizabeth Keckley's unique point of view influence the reader's understanding and perception of Mrs. Lincoln? Provide at least two examples from the text to support your explanation.
Although a picture of this exact dress (described in the highlighted text) may not be available, the following image is a picture of Mrs. Lincoln wearing one of Elizabeth's creations. Note the extensive detail and exceptional talent that is required in making such an extravagant dress. (This annotation contains an image)
CHAPTER VI - WILLIE LINCOLN’S DEATH-BED
Anaphora is a literary device wherein an author repeats a word (or words) in neighboring clauses. Look for the repeated word in this highlighted excerpt; what effect does the use of anaphora have on the reader?
Review the highlighted passage. What does Elizabeth's response tell you about the nature of her character?
Watch the following video on point of view. How does the author's unique point of view enhance your understanding or perception of President Lincoln in this scene? (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following literary terms is present in the highlighted passage?
CHAPTER VII - WASHINGTON IN 1862-3
Notice the dates here... As you may recall, the Civil War lasted from 1861-1865. This means that the nation is still at war during this upcoming chapter.
Based on the highlighted passage, with which statement would Elizabeth most likely agree?
As you, the reader, know that Mr. Lincoln was eventually assassinated, what is your reaction to Mrs. Lincoln's fears of him encountering danger or harm?
Identify one of the central ideas from the text thus far. Summarize this idea and explain how the author has developed this concept throughout her book. Provide at least two specific examples from the text to support your analysis.
CHAPTER VIII - CANDID OPINIONS
Notice the use of dialogue and detail in the highlighted passage. Does the author effectively establish a clear position on the differences between Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln in this excerpt? How does her use of dialogue and details contribute to your understanding of these two characters? Use at least two examples from the highlighted text to support your analysis.
This is perhaps a bit of ironic commentary here, as you may recall that Grant was later elected as President of the United States, serving in office from 1869-1877. (This annotation contains a link)
How does this paragraph further shape your opinion of Lincoln (not necessarily your opinion of him as president, but moreover your opinion of him as a human being)? What is your reaction to hearing Lincoln's remarks about Robert E. Lee, whom many would have considered to be Lincoln's main opponent?
CHAPTER IX - BEHIND THE SCENES
What does the highlighted excerpt tell you about Mrs. Lincoln's character?
Many words carry both denotations and connotations. Watch the following video on the difference between denotations and connotations, and identify some of the words with strong connotations in the highlighted paragraph. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Elizabeth's main purpose in Chapter IX, titled "Behind the Scenes"?
CHAPTER X - THE SECOND INAUGURATION
Refer to the previous annotation to read the copy of Lincoln's second inaugural address. Identify the purpose and tone of this speech. Provide at least two examples to support your analysis.
On March 4th, 1865, just one month before his assassination, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. This second address is considered by many to be one of the greatest speeches of his career. Read and assess this brief and famous speech below: (This annotation contains a link)
Notice the connotations and lack of details here... What do you think the author means when she says, "Quite a scene followed"?
Examine the diction and connotations in this highlighted excerpt. Which of the following words from the excerpt convey the most positive connotations?
CHAPTER XI - THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN
Notice the diction and connotations in this passage. What words best create an ominous mood, reminding the reader that something negative is happen in this chapter?
According to www.ourwhitehouse.org, "Over the course of his term as president, Lincoln received over 10,000 death threats. Some he kept in an envelope labeled 'Assassinations' in his White House desk. Remarking on the threats, he commented, 'I cannot bring myself to believe that any human being lives who would do me any harm.'” Knowing that Lincoln is eventually assassinated, what is your reaction to this detail, as well as to the premonitions felt by both Elizabeth Keckley and Mrs. Lincoln?
General Robert E. Lee formally surrendered on April 9th, 1865, marking one of the final acts that would lead to the end of the Civil War. Read Lee's brief farewell address to his troops below. (This annotation contains a link)
Observe the intimacy of this scene. Very few people would have witnessed this moment. Do you think the author violated any unspoken codes of friendship by revealing such intimate moments between this close circle of friends and family?
Based on the details provided in the highlighted excerpt, how does the author want the reader to feel towards Mrs. Lincoln?
Consider the presentations of Lincoln through the perspectives of Elizabeth Keckley, George Peter Alexander Healy (see previous annotation of Lincoln's portrait), and Walt Whitman (see previous annotation of "O Captain! My Captain!"). Based on what each author/artist presents, identify a central message that each writer/artist wishes to convey about President Lincoln. Then consider what similarities exist between these three perspectives. Use at least one example from each work (the book, the painting, and the poem) to support your analysis.
Next, read the poem "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman. The poem is about Lincoln's assassination after the North's victory in the Civil War. (This annotation contains a link)
You have learned a great deal about the personal and professional life of Abraham Lincoln from the author's point of view. Now consider two other perspectives of Lincoln. Below, examine the portrait of President Lincoln created by George Peter Alexander Healy. When done, click on the next annotation to read a brief poem about Lincoln. (This annotation contains a link)
CHAPTER XII - MRS. LINCOLN LEAVES THE WHITE HOUSE
Why do you think Mrs. Lincoln did not have a very notable farewell? Note that the author does not provide an answer to this question, so you must make an inference based on what she has said throughout the text.
Which of the following literary techniques is present in the highlighted passage?
What is the author's purpose in including this detailed account of Tad misreading the word "Ape"?
"Pecuniary embarrassment" is a polite way of saying that Mrs. Lincoln has no money.
Based on the details provided in this highlighted passage, what might be the best explanation as to why Elizabeth's responses regarding Mrs. Lincoln "were not always accepted as the most satisfactory"?
CHAPTER XIII - THE ORIGIN OF THE RIVALRY BETWEEN MR. DOUGLAS AND MR. LINCOLN
Watch the following video on textual evidence and inference. Based on the details provided in this highlighted passage, make an inference... Why do you think the author includes this detail about Mrs. Lincoln's childhood? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the author's purpose with the details provided in the highlighted excerpt?
Once again, consider the author's purpose here. Why do you think she includes this seemingly random account of Mr. Joseph Lovejoy? What does she want the reader to understand or learn from this reference?
CHAPTER XIV - OLD FRIENDS
Using the details provided, explain why Elizabeth desires to find out what happened to the Garlands. How does this desire further shape or deepen your understanding and opinion of Elizabeth? Use at least two examples from the text to support your explanation and analysis.
As you may recall, the Garlands were Elizabeth's former owners during her time as a slave.
Are you surprised at how much has changed in eight years? What is your reaction to the treatment towards Elizabeth?
What does the author mean by the word "romantic" in this line?
Based on this sentence, which of the following statements can the reader accurately infer to be true?
What is your reaction to the close relationship between the author and "MAG"?
CHAPTER XV - THE SECRET HISTORY OF MRS. LINCOLN’S WARDROBE IN NEW YORK
Elizabeth made many dresses for the former First Lady. Visit the following webpage to view some of the images of Elizabeth's work. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following word groups from the highlighted passage reveal the close friendship of the author and Mrs. Lincoln?
What do you think the author means with this line? Why would her "pride" prevent her from standing in the hall any longer?
Examine the details provided in this highlighted paragraph. How does the author's use of details influence your feelings towards Mrs. Lincoln? Use at least two examples from the passage to support your explanation.
Why does Mrs. Lincoln not want to be "recognized by any of her old friends" while she is in the city?
Think about how the reporters are trying to track down a "story" here... How would the reporting of this type of story be different today? Consider the different technology, such as cell phones, cameras, video, television, and the internet. How would something like this be portrayed in the media?
Note that the author wants to "suppress many passages" to keep confidentiality; however, keep in mind that she is still telling the reader about many private interactions with Mrs. Lincoln and her family. Do you think the author is justified in sharing these intimate moments with the public?
Review the highlighted excerpt from the New York Evening Express newspaper article. Based on the details in this paragraph, which of the following best describes the tone of this article?
The watch shown below might be the watch that is referenced here in this passage. According to The Smithsonian Institute, the watchmaker engraved a "secret message" inside the watch, which he inscribed shortly after the first attack that started the Civil War. The inscription reads "‘The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try." What do you think this inscription means? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on the evidence provided in this highlighted excerpt, which of the following best summarizes the depiction of Mrs. Lincoln in this paragraph?
Mr. Frederick Douglass was an African-American man who escaped from slavery to later become a prominent writer, speaker, and anti-slavery activist. He is well known not only for his exceptionally talented written work, but also for his leadership in the abolitionist movement. Below is a copy of a speech given by Mr. Douglass in 1852 at a 4th of July celebration in Rochester, New York. Read the speech and consider Mr. Douglass' author's tone and purpose. (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the previous annotation to read Frederick Douglass' 4th of July speech from 1852. Using at least three examples from his speech, identify Douglass' purpose and tone.
Which of the following literary devices is present in the highlighted excerpt?
Although the whereabouts of all of Mrs. Lincoln's possessions are not fully known, below is a picture of one of her diamond brooches, now owned by Boston’s MFA jewelry collection. Knowing what the author has said of Mrs. Lincoln's excessive debts, what is your reaction to seeing an example of one of her former possessions? (This annotation contains an image)
Overall, what best describes the author's purpose in writing this memoir?