Frederick Douglass, a slave in America until the age of 20, wrote three of the most highly regarded autobiographies of the 19th century, yet he only began learning to read and write when he turned 12 years old. After an early life of hardship and pain, Douglass escaped to the North to write three autobiographies, spaced decades apart, about his life as a slave and a freeman. The institution of slavery scarred him so deeply that he decided to dedicate his powers of speech and prose to fighting it.
Douglass wrote three biographies about his life as a politician, slave, and abolitionist. However, the historical value of these works does not remain as important as the quality of the works themselves. Frederick Douglass’ writing deserves recognition in the canon of great American authors, because his work meets the chosen criteria for inclusion in a collection of important literature. Douglass influenced many famous abolitionists with his literary works, and this impact, coupled with his desire to write an expose about oppression in America, makes him a winning candidate. Although his published works, mostly autobiographies, received much acclaim from abolitionists, this paper explores the quality of Douglass’s work from a literary standpoint. This paper also details the events shaping Douglass’s impressive life and writing career. By examining the prestigious “life and times” of this black author, the reader will recognize the widespread influence of Douglass’s writing on other antislavery writers, politics, and hence, the public. In a look at his first and greatest work, Narrative of the Life, the following paper will demonstrate why Frederick Douglass deserves a place in the hall of great American writers. To fully appreciate the impact of Douglass’s autobiographies, we must examine violent period in which he lived. Douglass, born in 1818, grew up as a slave on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation in eastern Maryland. At the time, abolitionist movements started gaining speed as popular parties in the North. In the North, pro-slavery white mobs attacked black communities in retaliation for their efforts. By the time Douglass escaped from slavery, in 1838, tensions ran high among abolitionists and slaveowners. Slaves published accounts of their harrowing escapes, and their lives in slavery, mainly with the help of ghostwriters. Although abolitionists called for the total elimination of slavery in the South, racial segregation still occurred all over the United States. Blacks, freemen especially, found the task of finding a decent job overwhelming.