The Nature of Douglass's Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass

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The Nature of Douglass's Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass wrote his autobiography the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass to tell his story and to help the abolitionist's cause. It provides a window into his world, which is that of a former slave and of a prominent speaker. Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818; his exact birthday is unknown. Unlike most slaves he had a mistress, Sophia Auld, who taught him his letters when he was about 10 and that basis of knowledge allowed him to 'steal literacy' over the years. Douglass was hired out to a slave breaker named Edward Covey in order to make him more subservient. In 1834 Frederick Douglass and Edward Covey had a battle which changed the course of Douglass?s life, and shaped him into a man who speaks and acts out against injustice.

After Fredrick Douglass stood up to Covey he became free in sprit, if not in body, and vowed to allow no one to control his mind again. He escaped slavery and went to New York in 1839. His career as a speaker started in 1841 and in 1845 he published the Narrative. Although, those are some of the basic facts about his life but they do little to describe the man that he was, and what his first work says about himself and what he believed.

The Narrative was written after he had spent a few years as a speaker going around telling his life?s story to abolitionist and therefore was in part rehearsed and also meant to be used as propaganda in the fight for equality. The book also serves as a historical source because it documents his voyage though slavery and the movement to end it. It is important when reading his autobiography to keep both views in mind. Many people have analyzed this complex work, Donald B. Gibson wrote about Douglass?s dual focus in his writing about how he had a public and social focus and a personal focus and private. The public and social focus was to correct the moral and political ills that slavery brought. While the personal and private focused on Douglass?s own thoughts, feelings, reactions, and emotions.

The social focus was what presented the first twenty-one years of Douglass?s life in a way that allowed it to serve as a weapon for abolitionism. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips recognized the public perspective, both of which wrote prefatory material to the Narrative. I...

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...hen reading Frederick Douglass?s Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass it is important to take in to account the time period in which it was written, who the author was and their background, and the purpose that the work was written for. Douglass was a slave and an abolitionist who wrote about his life for two reasons, to give the facts and to convince people that slavery was wrong. The way he wrote both parts are intertwined so that they compliment and support each other it exist as a work of abolitionist propaganda and as an historical source.


Andrews, William L., To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Douglass, Fredrick, Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass: An American Slave, ed. David Blight. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Gibson, Donald B., Reconciling Public and Private in Frederick Douglass? Narrative, Rutgers University.

Polsky, Milton. The American Slave Narrative: Dramatic Resource Material for the Classroom. Hunter College of CUNY.

Stewart, James Brewer, Holy Warriors The Abolitionists and American Slavery. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.
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