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Katelyn Aguinaga

Carroll, Kelly

Douglass’s Theme of Oppression

In his autobiography, ​Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass​, Frederick Douglass

reveals his theme of oppression, in chapters 1-4, by repeating ideas of dehumanizing slaves, or
african americans in general. Throughout these chapters, he introduces his life as a slave and his
mother and talks about his time on Colonel Lloyd's farm.
To start, Douglass repeats his idea of slaves being dehumanized through examples of
punishment, fear, and family bonds being split. Specifically, Douglass mentions his different
experiences of watching people get whipped by the overseers a couple of times throughout the
chapters. One example he mentions is “I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run
half an hour at the time” (18-19). Douglass is proving exactly how common these situations
were. He’s watched woman, men, even his own aunt punished in severe ways. The sentence’s
discussion of severe punishment introduces the concept of dehumanizing. The slave owners
don’t care of the pain they are inflicting on the slaves, the fact that they are punishing people like
they are less than humans develops Douglass’s theme of oppression. Sometimes, these
punishments went further than just a few whips on their backs.
Next, the harshest of overseers can take their punishments to the next level- cold-blooded
murder. In chapter 4, Douglass talks about how a young overseer shot a slave named Demby for
not following orders. Douglass explains “...that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot
county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community” (26). The
overseer was not convicted or tried for his crime of killing Demby. Douglass indicates that the
nature of colored people taken to be slaves resulted in the white slave owners dehumanizing
these slaves. The law and society thought slave’s lives were worth so little, that murdering a
white person was a crime, but murdering a colored person was not. Douglas also added how
cheap it was to bury a slave. White people thought colored people weren’t worth the trouble.
This further develops Douglass’s theme of oppression against slaves.
Therefore, through the motifs of white people punishing and dehumanizing slaves,
Frederick Douglass reveals and develops his theme of oppression. Ultimately, Frederick wants
the reader to conclude that slavery is an abomination. He uses example of the frequent
punishments Douglass has watched over slaves experience through his time and explains the
difference between the life worth of a white person compared to a slave. Douglass has told and
shown so much in just four chapters. Douglass had to face a lot of struggles as a slave and after.