Narrative of Frederick Douglass
This narrative offers a unique firsthand account of American slavery as narrated by a victim. Through his many experiences as a slave, Frederick saw the institution of slavery as a cruel and dehumanizing social injustice that people should reject and abolish. He argued that slavery put the oppressed victims at a disadvantage both educationally, socially and religiously. Slaves suffered abuse and deprivation from their masters and Frederick shows how they were treated as property or animals. This was the basis of the oppression and dehumanization of the then slaves who their considered as having no rights at all. This essay brings forward the nasty experiences that Frederick and other slaves underwent and how they impacted on his understanding of slavery as a social injustice that needed abolishment and condemnation.
Many masters denied their slaves the opportunity to read and write. This coupled with the threat of physical abuse increased the deep ignorance among the slaves that allowed for more oppression and perpetual bondage by their masters. Ignorance enabled the masters to manage their slaves by keeping them unaware of occurrences out of their work environs, which mostly included plantations. Frederick was unable to read and write and this quote by his master rebuking his wife for teaching a slave how to read and write, “If you teach [a] nigger how to read, there would be now keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable and of no value to his master” gave him the revelation that slaves were put in ignorance for maintaining the status quo. This, he notes, gave him awareness of the reality and nature of slavery. It gave him a clear perception of the poor wretched state he was in that had no solution. It opened his understanding of the deplorable condition that he and many slaves were in that only education would save them from. As he agonized, he felt envy for other slaves for their stupid nature. He regarded slavery as a “horrible pit” with no ladder to get out with.
In the narrative, Frederick brings forward his separation from his mother after birth and how this prevented him from developing familial feelings to his mother. This, he says, was intentioned to carve a slave from birth. Many of the slaves did not consider it unnatural for black to be slaves but Frederick upsets this notion by explaining how distortion of social connections and personal life processes by masters in order to turn people into slaves from a young age. He as well as many other slaves was introduced to slavery at birth and this destroyed their personal identity, history and support mechanisms during their childhood. This, coupled with the abuse the men and women underwent under the hands of their masters, cements his perspective of slavery as a perverse, execrable and loathsome system that was intentioned to oppress the slaves physically, mentally and spiritually. Severance of family ties, rape physical brutality, and deprivation of clothing, education and food all worked in displaying the perversity and inhumane nature of slavery.
Frederick sees slavery as a tool that was meant to increase inequality among human beings and the tough the slaves remained loyal to their masters, they usually had hidden forms of unhappiness and sufferings. He envisions slavery as a dehumanizing, oppressive, cruel and brutal perversity that many slaves had no choice on but rather as their way of life that they had to endure despite the ill treatment they experienced. This reflected a culture that was non-cognizant of the own invisibility towards those who were born and lived within.
Douglass, Frederick, and Deborah E. McDowell. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave, written by himself. Waterville, Me.: Kennebec Large Print, 2011.