“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” is a memoir of Frederick Douglas. Douglas was an African American who born as a slave and spent his early life in slavery. Douglas, in his memoir, describes his own life, experiences, sufferings and life of other slaves in a very realistic manner. This narrative was published in 1845 and has been revised several times due to its popularity. This paper proposes to discuss Frederick Douglass and analyses his memoir and several other related aspects.
Frederick Douglas talks about his date of birth and about his parents in First chapter of the book. He says that he is not aware of his date of birth. Further he shares that he is not sure about his father but perhaps his father was a white man and this white man was his own master. Douglas says that he was estranged with his mother just after his birth and met her only four or five times in his life when she visited sometimes in nights to see him. Douglas says his mother died when he was seven years old and remembers how he was not allowed to attend her burial (Douglass).
In chapter six, it is portrayed that Frederick Douglas was very ambitious and wanted to live free like white people. He was sent to Baltimore by his master and there he meets Mrs. Auld, his new mistress. Douglas remembers her as a nice woman who used to treat him nicely. Douglas says that Mrs. Auld taught him several things including etiquettes, writing and studying but all this was stopped by her husband because such training can make him unfit for being a good slave (Douglass). Douglas says that though he was stopped but he learnt that only learning can make him free.
Douglas learnt several useful things during his Baltimore stay. Chapter 10, which is the most exciting and the longest among all chapters, portrays how Douglas confronts Covey who was a very cruel man (Douglass). Douglas describes how Covey used to look for reasons in order to torture slaves. Douglas presents Covey as an archetypal villain who was very brutal and used to compel women to have sex with men other than their husbands. Douglas was tamed by Covey but one day Douglas realizes that this is not right and fights covey.
Douglas conquers Covey in the fight but was beaten badly, later. He also tried to escape but was caught and sent to the prison. Douglas again tried to escape and this time he succeeds. He got married and spent rest of his life fighting for slaves. Douglas tried to unite slaves and educate them about their rights (Douglass). He encouraged and inspired slaves to stand and fight for their rights in order to live a free life. Douglas, at the end of this book, gives descriptions about his works that he did for slaves and concludes the book (Douglass).
The autobiography of Frederick Douglas is a significant book and there are different reasons behind that. This book portrays a true historical version of a slave’s life that was written by a slave himself without any assistance or influence from anybody else. The book exposes slavery in a realistic way and portrays sufferings and life of slaves before the readers. The book also takes us into the contemporary American society and exposes how people used to think and hate African Americans just because they were black and poor (Douglass).
One interesting aspect of this book is the propagandist nature of this book. Though the book portrays the slavery and Douglas’s life in a realistic manner, it was used by Douglas as a tool of propaganda. Douglas portrays his early life and his parents in a way that earns sympathy of readers and gathers people’s sympathy (Douglass). The writing style and selection of words are also intended to sway people in author’s favor.
Douglas influences readers by using symbolic names of slave owners who used to own plantations. He uses this style everywhere in this book to portray different examples as well as instances. For example, Douglas portrays Mr. Savage in these words “He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity”. Douglas uses such tactics across the book in order to influence readers in a subtle way.
Douglas criticizes slavery as well as religious hypocrisy in harsh words. Douglas raises questions over the religiousness of those who treat human beings in the most inhuman manner. He also questions sense and intention of so called religious people who claim to be religious but are involved in several evil activities. Readers will not remain unaffected after reading his arguments. Douglas uses this hypocrisy as a tool against slavery and his tactic was very affective in fight against slavery (Douglass).
Douglas presents his case with examples. He portrays the dual behavior of Thomas Auld who was a cruel master. Auld used to torture his slaves by making them work without food but he used to give ample donations in churches and to the preachers. Douglas remembers how his home became like a preacher’s home. Douglas describes that he was hopeful that Mr. Auld will do something for the slaves in order to set them free but Auld was cruel, inhuman and a hypocrite.
Douglas, at times, appears mocking the religious principles and uses satire while portraying examples. He describes how Thomas Auld used to justify principles of Christianity while torturing slaves. Once he was beating a lame young girl and after beating he said that whatever he did was just the order of the god and he did not want to defy the god’s will by not beating that girl.
Douglas presents another example of Mr. Covey who himself was a very religious man. Covey was an ardent believer of the Christianity who used to be a member and a regular visitor of the church (Douglass). Douglas remembers Mr. Covey as a professor who used to teach religion but portray him as a cruel and untrustworthy man and used to behave in the most inhuman way with the slaves.
Douglas uses satirical words to portray religious hypocrisy. He says that he would rather like to be a slave than to be a religious man who does not abide by the principles of the religion and acts in the most artificial as well as most inhuman manner. Douglas is strait forward person who expresses his views on religious hypocrisy without any hesitation. Since he was continuously witnessing the sufferings of the slaves and atrocities of plantation owners, he was very sad by their hypocritical behavior.
Douglas mentions that the slavery was accepted by the contemporary American society in that era. There was no objection on the slave trade and slaves were considered as property instead of human beings. Slave trade was considered normal and they were traded like cows, sheep, pigs and horses. Douglas laments about such unfortunate behavior of white people who were involved into such things.
The powerful expression of Frederick Douglas and his mastery of writing has made this book very special. It influences readers by its realistic portrayal of historical events. Slavery has been portrayed in a way that sways sympathy of readers. Douglas compels readers to think about the evil that existed in the past and also about the discrimination that exists in the American society, based on race and color.
There are eleven chapters in this book that elaborate slavery, life of slaves, and how Frederick risked his life in order to gain freedom. Douglas revolted against the slavery and inhuman treatment when slave owners were very powerful and there was nobody to help and speak for slaves. Douglas stood against slave owners and even did not hesitate from fighting them in his capacity.
Having observed the abovementioned succinct analysis of the memoir of Frederick Douglas, it can be concluded that Douglas has presented a very good description of slavery. He risked his life fighting against the slavery. He participated in campaigns of anti slavery and kept teaching African Americans to stand up and fight against slavery. This book is very precious for people whose ancestors were subjected to numerous sufferings.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. New York: Penguin, 2009.