Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass 1. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one the most influential anti-slavery works written by a former slave. The narrative, which was written entirely by Douglass himself, described his life as a slave, and his road to freedom. The novel concludes with Douglass’s induction into the abolitionist cause, and continued efforts to free his fellow African Americans from bondage. While the narrative, like most other works by former slaves, was intended to expose the horrors of slavery and galvanize the public to aid the abolitionist cause, it carried an additional, more poignant message.
Douglass encountered belittlement even among the white abolitionists in the North. Men like William Lloyd Garrison encouraged Douglass to share his stories of slavery to the public, but he did not allow the former slave to speak of anything else but the bare facts. Garrison believed that African Americans did not have the persuasive or the literary skills to successfully lead the argument against Slavery. Douglass published his narrative to attest to the fact that African Americans did not have to rely entirely on the white men to lead their fight, and that the former slaves could defend themselves in public.
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Douglass intended to prove that he and other African American abolitionists could be much more than mere orators. 2. Throughout the narrative, Frederick Douglass tells his story as a slave as it was, while reflecting upon certain aspects of his life. Douglass begins his tale by stating the discrepancy in which the slaves were forced to live. For most of his life as a slave, Douglass did not even know his birth date, and was forbidden to ask about it to his master.
Most of the slaves on Douglass’s first plantation were not allowed to know much information about them, a strategy devised by the white owner to discourage individualism among the slaves. Another such custom was the separation of slave families, to sever the affection between them before it strengthens. Douglass recounts being separated from his mother at a very young age, as he was sold to another owner. His mother died a few years later, when he was seven years old. Douglass somberly admits that he was not affected at all by the news, as he had hardly known her.
To generate revulsion of slavery from the reader, Douglass describes the horrible conditions in which the slaves were to live. Slaves at his plantation never worked with full stomachs. Slaves generally received a small monthly ration of corn meal, and occasionally fish or pork. Slaves wore very rough linen clothing, which was never washed or replaced for an entire year. Their quarters consisted of huts or barracks with no windows and poor ventilation. Slaves settled down for the night on mud floors, which were also home to many insects and worms. The slaves lived without virtually any protection from abuse or violence.
Slave women were commonly ravaged by their white masters and overseers. Consequentially, many slave women were impregnated by white men, and gave birth to mixed-race children. As children of slaves become slaves themselves, the rape of slave women perversely became profitable to the white owners. Douglass himself was a mixed race child; he suspected that his own master, Captain Anthony, fathered him when he raped his mother. At Douglass’s plantation, he witnessed several whippings, including that of his own Aunt Hester. He recalled the ‘heart-rending shrieks” and the blood strewn floors that accompanied each gruesome spectacle.
Douglass then records what was to be a poignant part of his story. After such beatings, slaves would then commune together and sing songs. Yet these were not songs of happiness, but of sadness and despair. Initially, Douglass considered these songs to be wild and incoherent, as he could not understand the words that were sung. Despite not knowing the meaning of these words, Douglass eventually came to interpret the songs as complaints about the destitute lives the slaves led. The songs that Douglass heard represented the hardships of the slaves, and their hope for salvation. . After reading this extraordinarily well written narrative, I would say that Douglass sufficiently captured the destitution of the slaves’ lives, and proved beyond any doubt that he was a capable writer. The effect of this publication on the public was similar to Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, nearly a century before. The narrative drew sympathy from white population for the plight of the slaves, as well as outrage for their inhumane treatment. Douglass’s narrative was also a victory for African-American abolitionists.
Prior to the publication of the narrative, African American abolitionists were invited to speak of their tales of slavery at anti-slavery rallies. They were not, however, allowed to analyze or interpret their tales, however, because the white abolitionists believed that the former slaves lacked the literacy skills to d o so. After the publication of the Narrative, these white abolitionists changed their policies, and encouraged their African-American allies to speak as well as write about their tales, and asked for their opinions and interpretations of what they experienced.
William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, who had earlier discouraged Douglass’s aspirations to write, praised his work in the prefaces of the Narrative and encouraged him to publish more anti-slavery writings. 4. Douglass’s detailed account of slavery life taught me more poignant aspects of the plight of slaves. I had already known that slaves were given little to eat, that they were frequently beaten, and that they were given uncomfortable sleeping quarters, but the textbooks that gave me this information tempered down the horror and the brutality of slave life.
Seeing the atrocities of slavers written down in exquisite detail and fluency made the situation as real and terrible as possible. This narrative can be used directly in proportion to the study of abolitionism throughout history. I recommend this Narrative by Frederick Douglass, because this is much more than a mere story of one of countless slaves. This is a landmark, one which exposed the horrors of slavery and opened new horizons of African-American literature.