Frederick Douglass’s “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” is a powerful first-hand account of the horrors of slavery. In his narrative, Douglass details his life as a slave in Maryland, from his childhood through his escape to freedom.
The work is significant not only for its graphic portrayal of the brutalities of slavery, but also for its insights into the internal workings of the institution. Slavery was more than just physical abuse and forced labor; it was a system designed to strip away the humanity of those who were enslaved.
Douglass’s narrative is an important record of this system and its effects on those who lived under it. It is also an inspiring story of one man’s triumph over tremendous odds.
Frederick Douglass was born in February 1818, in Talbot County, Maryland. He was the son of a slave woman named Harriet Bailey and an unknown white man. His mother died when he was around seven years old, and he was sent to live with a slave family on a nearby plantation.
As a young boy, Douglass experienced the brutality of slavery firsthand. He was regularly beaten by the men who owned him, and he witnessed the whipping of his Aunt Hester. These experiences left him with a deep hatred of slavery and a determination to escape from it.
In 1838, Douglass made his first attempt at escape. He boarded a train headed north but was caught and returned to his owner. He was then sent to live and work in Baltimore, where he met a free black woman named Anna Murray. With her help, he finally succeeded in escaping to freedom in 1838.
Douglass settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he began working as a lecturer for the abolitionist cause. In 1845, he published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” which became an immediate bestseller.
In the years that followed, Douglass continued his work as an abolitionist and civil rights activist. He helped recruit black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War, and later served as a diplomat for the United States government.
Slavery is defined as the ownership of and total control over a person by another. During that period, slave owners ruled supreme; where masters often whip slaves when they do not deserve it, for no cause, or fail to whip them when they most deserve it to keep them in fear. Because they can, many slave owners treat their slaves as only property rather than people.
Slavery was a big part of Frederick Douglass’ life, as he was a slave for much of his young life, until he finally escaped to freedom.
Slaves were seen as property and their births were not legally recorded. As a child, Frederick had very little interaction with his mother because she worked on a different plantation from him and his father’s identity is unknown. Slaves were usually denied the chance to form any sort of familial bonds because they could be sold away at any moment without warning.
Around the age of eight, Frederick was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld, Sophia’s sister. It was there that Frederick began to learn how to read and write, which was illegal for slaves to do at the time. Slaves who were caught reading or writing could be whipped, or even killed. Learning how to read and write was a risk that Frederick took, but he felt that it was necessary in order to gain his freedom.
After a few years living with Hugh and Sophia Auld, Frederick was returned to the plantation where he grew up. It was here that Frederick experienced some of the worst atrocities committed against slaves. One incident in particular left a deep scar on Frederick’s psyche. His overseer, Mr. Plummer, caught Frederick’s friend, Henson, trying to escape. As punishment, Mr. Plummer took Henson out into the woods, tied him to a tree, and whipped him until his back was covered in blood. This experience made Frederick even more determined to escape from slavery.
In 1838, at the age of 20, Frederick finally made his escape to freedom. He boarded a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland, and then took a boat to Philadelphia. From there he went to New York City and then upstate New York before eventually settling in Massachusetts. In 1845, Frederick published his autobiography, “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” which became an instant bestseller. The book brought Frederick much notoriety and he became an in-demand speaker on the abolitionist circuit.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most important voices of the anti-slavery movement. His experiences as a slave helped to shine a light on the horrors of slavery and galvanized support for the abolitionist cause. Slavery was a barbaric institution that denied basic human rights to millions of people. Frederick Douglass’ story is a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit and the importance of fighting for freedom.
Slaves were not allowed to learn since it might instill hope and cause a slave rebellion. This was used by slave masters to their advantage, allowing them to rule over slaves by using the situation. When slaves are moved from one plantation to another, family members may be separated from them without regard for whether they are someone’s child, parent, or sibling.
Slaves were humiliated by whippings in front of other slaves to show a sense of power. Slaves who ran away and got caught were given terrible punishments such as being burned alive, castrated or hung. If a white person was killed by a black person the whole slave community was held responsible and would be killed.
Slaves were not even acknowledged as humans and if they fought back it only led to more pain. Frederick Douglass was one of the few slaves who learned how to read and write. When he was about twelve years old he began to teach other slaves on the plantation how to read the New Testament at Sunday school.
Douglas gives a firsthand account of many of the abuses slaves had to endure in order to survive. During and after his time as a slave, Frederick Douglas described how slavery was harsh and insufferable mentally and physically. In chapter VIII of the tale, the author begins to emphasize how slaves are treated as property rather than people, and that they must obey their masters.
Slaves were beaten for various reasons, some which were very minuscule. Slaves had to be careful of how they addressed their masters and other white people; if they used improper vernacular, then they were beaten. Slaves that attempted to run away and get caught were either killed or returned and brutally beaten in front of other slaves as an example.
In the chapter it also talks about how some slaveholders would hire overseers to watch over the slaves and make sure they were working. The overseers would often times beat the slaves more than the actual slaveholders because they didn’t have the personal attachment to them. Slaves weren’t just given food and water, but just enough so that they could still work long hours. Slaves that were considered to be unruly or didn’t work hard enough were commonly starved as punishment.
Douglas talks about the different types of mental and emotional scars slaveryleft on him and other slaves. Slaves weren’t able to have families because they could be split up at any given moment and sold to different owners. Slaves weren’t even given proper burial rights and many times their graves would just be left unmarked. Slavery not only took a physical toll on slaves, but also a mental one. Many slaves became numbed to the violence and became content with their position in life.