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The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

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Published by jehondo
A review of Frederick Douglass's book.
A review of Frederick Douglass's book.

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Published by: jehondo on Oct 22, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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One’s preconceived expectation of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglasswould most likely be a sad story of the horrible life of a 19th century Americanslave. The story of an illiterate field hand who works on the plantation fromsun up to sundown, lives in a mud and straw hut, and receives a cruel whipping on a regular basis from his master. Frederick Douglass’s personal account of slavery does include some of these shockingly horrible aspects, but they are not themost important message about slavery that Douglass wants his readers to realizeabout the peculiar institution.Douglass wants his readers to understand that the real evil of slavery is it’s robbing of a man’s liberty and the ever present – want of Freedom. He tells of the important impact his learning to read and write had on his ability to gain his freedom, but also of the newly acquired burden of the knowledge of freedom. “I wouldat times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. Ithad given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.” Douglass seemed to be consumed during most of his slavery by the desire to escape his bondage “In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death. With us it was a doubtful liberty atmost, and almost certain death if we failed. For my part, I should prefer deathto hopeless bondage.” Even at the point of relative comfortableness when Douglass lived on his own, he yearned to escape to the freedom of the north. He worked in the Baltimore shipyards as a caulker, came and went as he pleased, and evenhad some leisure time. This semblance of liberty that he seemed to have wouldbe washed away at the end of each week. –I was now getting, as I have said, one dollar and fifty cents per day. I contracted for it; I earned it; it was paid to me; it was rightfully my own; yet, uponeach returning Saturday night, I was compelled to deliver every cent of that money to Master Hugh. And why? Not because he earned it, - not because he had any hand in earning it, - not because I owed it to him, - nor because he possessedthe slight shadow of a right to it; but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it up. The right of the grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas isexactly the sameDouglass does offer up some very horrific stories of slavery, his first witnessing of whipping is extremely vivid. He describes the odd relationship his aunt Hester has with his master, implying one of a jealous sexual nature – “Why master was so careful of her, may be safely left to conjecture.” Often the master’s jealousy turned to rage, and the rage turned to the whip. “…and soon the warm, red blood (amid heartrending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping tothe floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till long after the bloody transactionwas over.”In Chapter 8 Douglass details the abandonment of his grandmother by her master in her old age. Left out in the woods to fend for herself - “She gropes her way,in the darkness of age for drink of water. Instead of the voices of her children, she hears by day the moans of the dove, and by night the screams of the hideous owl. All is gloom. The grave is at the door.”I found one of the most remarkable aspects of the Narrative to be Douglass’s condemnation of religion. He questions in several places that a just, divine being must not exist for how would he allow such evil to happen. He talks about how religion is used as a cover for justifying evil actions – “a dark shelter under, whichthe darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.” Douglass not only found that these men used religion assomething to hide behind, but he also found that the more religious a slaveholder was, the worse the man was. “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest andbasest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

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