Frederick Douglass: The Dehumanization Of African American Slaves

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Frederick Douglass’ landmark narrative describes the dehumanization of African-American slaves, while simultaneously humanizing them through his moving prose. Douglass shows the dehumanization of slaves through depictions of violence, deindividuation, and the broken justice system. However, Douglass’ pursuit of an education, moving rhetoric, and critique of his own masters demonstrates to the reader that African-Americans are just as intelligent as white people, thus proving their humanity.
Throughout the narrative, Douglas gives numerous examples of the dehumanizing violence towards slaves by their masters and overseers. This violence is explicitly described in Douglass’ depiction of Master Colonel Lloyd and his overseer, Austin Gore.
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Slaves are stripped of information about themselves, as depicted in Douglass’ unknowing of his own birthday. This alone is significant in removing one’s self-identity, for slaves have no knowledge of their own age. Furthermore, slaves were separated from their families, taking away one of the only senses of comfort and belonging in the harsh plantation. Douglass also references a moment where Colonel Lloyd does not even recognize his own slave, because he has so many of them. This is also supported by Douglass describing how quickly slaves were replaced if they committed a misdemeanor. This suggests that Colonel Lloyd sees his slaves as replaceable objects/tools, rather than actual human beings. Perhaps an even more moving moment was when Douglass was sent to be “valued” with other slaves and ranked with “horses, sheep, and swine,” following the death of his former Master. Douglass cleverly uses parallelism by pairing each animal with man, woman, and child, respectively. This shows the slave holder’s thought process when valuing each human/animal: they are equal. In this situation, Douglass describes his indignation by commenting on the brutalizing effects of slavery on the slave and the slave holder alike. So, by equating humans to animals, they are not only stripped of their self-identity as individuals, but also their self-identity as…show more content…
While writing about the dehumanizing nature of slavery, Douglass eloquently and efficiently re-humanize African Americans. This is most evident throughout the work as a whole, yet specific parts can be used as examples of his artistic control of the English language. From the beginning of the novel, Douglass’ vocabulary is noteworthy with his use of words such as “intimation […] odiousness […] ordained.” This more advanced vocabulary is scattered throughout the narrative, and is a testament to Douglass’ education level. In conjunction with his vocabulary, Douglass often employed a complex syntax which shows his ability to manipulate the English language. This can be seen in Douglass’ self-description of preferring to be “true to [himself], even at the hazard of incurring ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur [his] own abhorrence.” This is significant because it proves that Douglass can not only simply read and write, but he has actually obtained a mastery of reading and writing. This is a highly humanizing trait because it equates him in education level to that of the stereotypical white man, and how could one deny that the white man is human because of his greater education? It is primarily the difference in education that separates the free from the slaves, and Douglass is able to bridge this gap as a pioneer of the
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