The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

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The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

 

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass shows several instances in which his personal accounts of slavery are highlighted. These instances illustrate important realizations that Douglass makes concerning slavery, and/or about his own condition.

 

The very first chapter of the novel produces the first example: loss of identity. Many slaves had absolutely no concept of time, in terms of factual dates. Slaves were kept "ignorant" as to the facts of the real world, in most cases not even knowing the year of their birth, preventing the knowledge of a captive's true age. A birthday is something with which people can identify, as they are a celebrated part of our culture, especially to youth. Douglass here identifies himself as a human being lacking what we may consider a normal childhood simply through the use of dates. We identify ourselves by the dates which surround the events of our lives. Part of our identity is formed from dates and this was a privilege he was denied. He is, however, provided with a general idea as to how old he truly is, " I come to this from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen years old" (Douglass 1).

 

Adding to this already tarnished identity is the status of his parental figures. While Douglass somewhat got to know his mother, he never really had a father. His father, according to practically everyone, was a white man, ."..opinion was also whispered that my master was my father..." (1). Although it is true that he knew his mother, it must be noted that they were separated while he was an infant and thereafter only met a total of four or five times. The consequences of not knowing who you really are may not have phased Douglass much during his childhood. However as he grew older and began to understand how the politics of slavery work, there is no doubt that this lack of principle human right (to which everyone should be entitled) certainly motivated Douglass towards achieving his goal of freedom.

 

A major fear amongst slave owners is that their slaves will learn to read and write.

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One reason is because the less they know they better off the owner would be. The slave would then realize he was an equal to his master and question why his master has the right to enslave him. Douglas stated this saying, "The more I read the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers." When Douglas learned to read and write, he looked at everything differently. He saw everything as a citizen and not a slave. He then began to envy the illiterate slave because they did not completely understand the terrible condition in which they lived. Douglass, however, now did, and could not bear the thought of remaining a slave. Moving to Baltimore and thus becoming illiterate proved to be a substantial event in Douglass' life. For if neither of the two ever happened, it is extremely probable that Douglass would have died in the trenches of slavery.

 

When Douglass is a young boy, he witnesses for the first time a slave getting whipped. It is his Aunt Hester. Douglass hides in a closet, thinking that he would be next. This is Douglass's first encounter with the extreme cruelty of slaveholders (3). Years later, Douglass regards the treatment of his grandmother as a great tragedy. After years of dutiful service to her master, she is cast off to die alone. Douglass can only ask, "Will not a righteous God visit for these things?" (29). Knowledge of such despicable acts happening to one's family can only inspire feelings of despise, disgust and hatred.

 

Douglass, however, used this as fuel to inspire his freedom.

 

Frederick Douglass was always a strong man who would not be broken by anyone. In 1833 he was once sent to work for a man named Mr. Covey who had a reputation for being a "slave breaker." Douglass considers the first six months working for Mr. Covey the darkest time of his life, "During the first six months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me" (36). The remaining six however, proved to be less intense. Douglass received a severe beating from Covey one day, and while in despair turned to a friend of his, Sandy Jenkins for support. Jenkins advised Douglass: ."..there was a certain root; which, if I would take some of it with me, carrying it always on my right side, would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man, to whip me" (42). Not truly convinced, but complying anyhow, Douglass did as he was told. Upon returning to Covey's land, a confrontation immediately took place between Douglass the slave, and Covey the master. Surprisingly, Douglass found the confidence to stand up and defend himself, furthermore defeating Covey! "This battle was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and inspired me again with a determination to be free" (43). This fueled Frederick's mind to free himself. This was the biggest turning point in his life.

 

In conclusion, the above mentioned events, and all others that Douglass experienced, led to his victorious escape on September 3, 1838. Douglass undoubtedly endured a traumatizing life.

 
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