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Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass was an orator and writer for the abolition movement. He was born into slavery and knows from personal experience how the institution dehumanizes everyone involved. His masters’ wife taught him the alphabet which was the start of Douglass learning how to write and speak out against slavery. His Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass was an attempt to describe the peculiar institution of slavery with out disrupting the sensibilities of his readers. In order to accomplish this Douglass must get his audience to relate to and identify with his life as a slave. He incorporated the same exploitive techniques used in the sentimental novel. This was an 18th century European novel style that engaged readers’ emotions to gain supporters for a particular cause. Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass appealed to the sensibilities of his readers by evoking emotions of sympathy and compassion causing his readers to identify with slavery and label it unnatural.

Fredrick Douglass throughout the novel is describing the horrific actions that maintain the institution of slavery. Separating a child from their mother means that one was never properly nurtured. He never knew his mother and did not build that loving bond that any human child needs to grow emotionally healthy.

Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of [my mother’s] death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

(Douglass 2)

Douglass describes how he never experienced a parental relationship. A mothers’ love is supposed to be unconditional yet his was taken from him. He uses the words “soothing” and “tender” to describe a relationship he never felt. It would be discomforting to the reader to imagine if they were forced to part with their own flesh and blood. In addition, Douglass makes the reader sympathize with him even more when he explains the news of her death. He compares her how he felt about her death to that of “…the death of a stranger”. This odd association reveals the lack of a true relationship and motherly connection. Whether it had been the death of his mother or a stranger he would have felt the same emotion. His readers could not imagine such a void in ones life.

Fredrick Douglass started of by explaining how he was alienated and stripped of his identity ever since he could remember. Basic knowledge like knowing who ones parents were, ones own personal name, and even ones birthday were the foundations for which every individual bases and builds their identity.

I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. (Douglass 1)

The day one was born on was a cherish able memory that most individuals keep

noted and observe on an annual basis. Fredrick Douglass was deprived of the most primitive and basic aspect of his own identity. This practice of the masters not telling the slaves their birthday was one of the mechanisms that kept the institution of slavery afloat. When his readers tried to imagine what it would be like to not know their birthday it would probably leave them feeling empty. Within the text, Douglass reduced slaves to the same common denominator as a horse when pertaining to self awareness. Hence, ignorance was the tool that the white patriarchy used in order to keep the inferior mind state of a slave. Anyone of his readers would be applaud by the fact that these human beings were denied their God given right to know who they were and what day they came to be.

All of these deprivations imposed on slaves by their master lowered their overall self- esteem. Clemmont Vontress published an article in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development that discussed strategies fro dealing with anger in the African American client. He cited the oppressive treatment blacks have received over the past decades as a cause of emotional disturbance. He summed up the psychological experience of blacks as the “indelible and unconscious self- hatred, emerging from their ethnic group’s history of oppression…” (Vontress). Slavery had caused African Americans to have a negative self image and a substandard state of mind.

The slaves throughout the entire novel suffered from some form of neglect. Fredrick Douglass explains his notion of pain and suffering. He became num to his horrific living conditions and the unbearable daily

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