What would you really expect of someone who is to narrate his experiences as a slave ,teaches himself how to read and write , narrates about his passage from childhood full of ignorance to adulthood and self realization, his aborted attempt to escape, and his final successful escape attempt from slavery , followed by a short discussion of his time in the north? It is just such a man who we meet in Frederick Douglass own novel Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave .Through what he says about himself, about people around him ,the society that he lives in as ,and through his own interpretation of the events found in his society ,issues such as religious hypocrisy, materialism which are some of the outstanding traits of the world he finds himself in.
The issue of religion is a major component of this novel .Although Douglass does not shy away from declaring his own devotion to Christianity; he distinguishes his own devotion or faith from that of the slave owners. He clearly notes that he felt provided for by God, and that God had some special purpose for him. Douglass saw his hard childhood life as having been destined by a benevolent divine power. Religion is depicted here as increasing the rot in the society such as slavery. It forms a place for escape from the harsh realities of slave trade all those involved in the slavery.
Analysis of major characters
Douglass acts as both the narrator and the protagonist in this narrative. However ,he appears to be very different in these roles .Douglass moves from an uneducated ,and suppressed and oppressed slave to a prominent political commentator .He is in many occasions dramatizing his the differences between his older self through referring to ton his ignorance and naïveté. At some point for example, he dramatizes this by mocking how impressed, as a young man, he was to be in the city of Annapolis. This city now seems rather small to him according to the standard of the Northern highly industrialized cities. In short, Douglass is depicted as a character who is in a constant state of change caused by various forces within the society .Through him, we are able to get a good picture of social rot that is his society .For example, he reforms on seeing some evils such as Captain Antony’s whipping of Aunt Hester, Hugh Audi’s insistence that he is not taught to read. –which introduces him to the cruel world of slavery.
Analysis of major themes
Ignorance as a Tool for Slavery
This narrative shows one of the ways in which the white slave owners perpetuated their slavery was through ensuring that their slaves remained ignorant. This narrative is basically set at a time when many people believed that slavery was ordained by God. The slaves were kept ignorant of basic facts about their own selves’ .For example they were neither told of their date of birth nor their paternity. This kind of ignorance robbed the children of their natural right of individual identity. The slaves were also not to be taught to write, for example the narrator is denied that opportunity. The issue of religion is a major component of this novel .Although Douglass does not shy away from declaring his own devotion to Christianity; he distinguishes his own devotion or faith from that of the slave owners. He clearly notes that he felt provided for by God, and that God had some special purpose for him. Douglass saw his hard childhood life as having been destined by a benevolent divine power. Religion is depicted here as increasing the rot in the society such as slavery. It forms a place for escape from the harsh realities of slave trade all those involved in the slavery.
Slavery’s Destructive nature
In the narrative, Douglass shows how damaging slave holding can be damaging to everyone involved that is the slaves and the slave owners .Slave owners ‘ own moral well being is badly affected by the corrupt and blind power that they have over their slaves. The protagonist narrates how many slave owners have been engaged in adultery, and rape, having children with their slaves. Such cases led to conflicts in the slave owners’ families’ .Some resorted to escapism to blind themselves from the sins that they committed in their homes. A good example is Thomas Auld .Douglass also presents the effect of slavery’s corrupt nature in Sophia Auld’s transformation from an ideal woman into a demon. By presenting the damaging effects of slavery in the society, Douglass is suggesting that slavery should be done away with for the greater good of the whole society.
Major Literary devices
The narration has employed some outstanding stylistic devices to help communicate the issues of concern of the narrator. Some of them include:
- Use of symbols
Symbols are objects, characters, figures and even colors which are used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Sandy gives Douglass a root from the forest which is supposed to help protect the slaves from the whippings by the slave owners. However, he does not believe in the power of the sandy’s root. This root symbolizes the superstitious nature of a traditional African approach to religion. This kind of belief only serves to make their situation even wore as it blinds them to more submissiveness.
ii)The Columbian Orator
At around the age of twelve, Douglass comes across The Columbian Orator, a collection of political essays, dialogues and poems. Of all the writings in this collection, he focuses on the master-slave dialogue and the speech given on behalf of Catholic liberation. These pieces enable Douglass to articulate the ills of slavery in both philosophical and political perspectives. This collection therefore is a symbol of both human rights and the powers of good articulation knowledge as seen in the narrator after encountering with it as seen in Douglass.
Although written more than a century and a half by ago by a runaway slave who had never been to school but taught he to read and write, the novel is relevant and readable today .Various literary techniques have been employed here to canonize this novel. It is nether too difficult, to highlight key issues .Hence we get to enjoy the novel as well as getting to know and understand the writer better.
Douglass, Frederick. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave” .USA.1845.