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Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass

In Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, he writes about the inhumanity and brutality of slavery, with the intention of informing white, American colonists. Douglass is thought to be one of the greatest leaders of the abolition, which radically and dramatically changed the American way of life, thus revolutionizing America. Douglass changed America, and accomplished this through writing simply and to the point about the “reality” of slavery, told through the point of view of a slave. In a preface of Douglass’ autobiography, William Lloyd Garrison writes, “I am confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, nothing drawn from the imagination; that it comes short of reality, rather than overstates a single fact in regard to slavery as it is” (Douglass, 6). This statement authenticates and guarantees Douglass’ words being nothing but the truth.

Douglass’ enslaved life was not an accurate representation of the common and assumed life of a slave. He, actually, often wished that he was not so different and had the same painful, but simpler ignorance that the other slaves had. It was his difference, his striving to learn and be free that made his life so complicated and made him struggle so indefinitely. Douglass expresses this in writing, “I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast…It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me” (Douglass, 53). In his narrative, Douglass does generalize to relate his experience to that of other slaves, creating a parallel between his life and the life of any other slave. He writes about the brutality, physical and psychological struggle, culture, and general life of slaves to create a political argument for the easily attainable abolishment of the inhumane and unconstitutional act of slavery.

Douglass’ life started off as any other life of a slave. He was born into slavery on a plantation, separated from his mother before he was twelve months old, and taken care of by his grandmother, who was too old to be of any use on a plantation. This was a usual occurrence, taking the child from the enslaved woman at a young age. Being very important in keeping the child enslaved and obedient, the only purpose to the psychological effect of this separation was, Douglass writes, “to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child” (Douglass, 48). Douglass also tells of when he learns that his mother had died, “I received tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger” (Douglass, 49). He states this to further illustrate the effect and purpose of the separation. Douglass feels no different towards his own mother than he does toward a complete stranger, implying what little he knew of, experienced with, and cared about his mother due to their forced separation.

Douglass uses chilling and descriptive stories of events from his life in his narrative with a political purpose. These overwhelming stories relay the truth and detail of the evil machine of slavery to his American readers. One of his stories is that of a killing of one of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, Demby. Demby runs away from his overseer’s whipping. He flees into the creek to soothe the lashes on his back, and the overseer, Mr. Gore shoots the slave in the head when Demby refuses to come back, with all of the other slaves witnessing it. This murder was never brought to justice, because the death of a slave wasn’t important, it wasn’t a big deal, and it wasn’t a crime. Douglass writes, “I speak advisedly when I say this---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” (Douglass, 68). He tells of this, along with many other horror stories in his narrative to add to the political shock value of the cruelty of slavery.

White Americans along with any and all northerners had misconceived the way slaves felt about their lives and the absolute barbarity of slavery. They thought that slaves were happy and content with their lives and the way they were treated, otherwise, they thought, why would slaves live the way they do? One instance of a slave’s life that seemed to be a benefit was the December holidays, which, Douglass explains were actually just another part of the “gross fraud, wrong, and inhumanity of slavery” (Douglass, 115).

These “holidays” took place during Christmas and New Years every year, when slaves did not do any work, but joined in the festivities and drank

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