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Slavery’s Dehumanizing Effects on American Slaves and Slaveholders

Powerful Essays
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, brings to light many of the social injustices that colored men, women, and children all were forced to endure throughout the nineteenth century under Southern slavery laws. Douglass's life-story is presented in a way that creates a compelling argument against the justification of slavery. His argument is reinforced though a variety of anecdotes, many of which detailed strikingly bloody, horrific scenes and inhumane cruelty on the part of the slaveholders. Yet, while Douglas’s narrative describes in vivid detail his experiences of life as a slave, what Douglass intends for his readers to grasp after reading his narrative is something much more profound. Aside from all the physical burdens of slavery that he faced on a daily basis, it was the psychological effects that caused him the greatest amount of detriment during his twenty-year enslavement. In the same regard, Douglass is able to profess that it was not only the slaves who incurred the damaging effects of slavery, but also the slaveholders. Slavery, in essence, is a destructive force that collectively corrupts the minds of slaveholders and weakens slaves’ intellects.

In order to justify keeping an entire race of people enslaved, slaveholders claimed that blacks were inferior to whites, placing them on the same level as livestock and other animals. “There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination” (73). The fact is, whites are not naturally superior over blacks. Therefore, slaveholders used a variety of contrived strategies to make their case that blacks were inherently inferior to whites. To...

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Douglass's narrative is, on one surface, intended to show the barbarity and injustice of slavery. However, the underlying argument is that freedom is not simply attained through a physical escape from forced labor, but through a mental liberation from the attitude created by Southern slavery. The slaves of the South were psychologically oppressed by the slaveholders' disrespect for a slave’s family and for their education, as well as by the slaves' acceptance of their own subordination. Additionally, the slaveholders were trapped by a mentality that allowed them to justify behavior towards human beings that would normally not be acceptable. In this manner, both slaveholder and slave are corrupted by slavery.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Bookbyte

Digital, 2011. iPad edition.
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