Essay on An American Slave

Submitted By monty61
Words: 1155
Pages: 5

Roger A Montminy
Dr. Stephen P. Sayles
History 110
July 8, 2013

An American Slave The novel, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, by Frederick Douglass, was published in Boston, by the Anti-Slavery Office, No. 25 Cornhill in 1845. In his preface, William Lloyd Garrison pledges that Douglass's Narrative is "essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated" (Douglass viii). Likewise, Wendell Phillips pledges "the most entire confidence in Douglass' truth, candor, and sincerity" (xiv). Douglass uses a primary source, himself and his experiences throughout this novel. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a first-hand account of the brutality of slavery as told by an actual slave. He focuses on the brutality of the institution of slavery, and the demoralizing practices that slave holders use in order to control the slave population. Douglass, who was born into slavery, describes his experiences as a slave and what made him decide to escape his bondage and race to freedom. Douglass begins his narrative with his firsthand accounts. He knows that his birthplace is in Tuckahoe, Maryland but is unsure of when he was born. He has no accurate knowledge of his age and he has some idea, but is unsure, who his father is. Douglass notes that it was "whispered that my master was my father. . . but the means of knowing was withheld from me" (Douglass 21). He recalls that he was separated from his mother and that he saw her only four or five times in his life (20). Douglass explains that this separation of mothers from children, and lack of knowledge about age and paternity, was common among slaves that it was the wish of most masters to keep their slaves ignorant (19). Growing up on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd, Douglass witnesses brutal whippings of various slaves, male and female, old and young. But for the most part, he describes his childhood as a typical or representative story, rather than a unique or individual narrative. Douglass writes that, "[His] own treatment. . . was very similar to that of the other slave children" (Douglass 42). The early chapters of his narrative emphasize the status of slaves and the nature of slavery over his individual experience. Douglass states that he had no bed, but that he would sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with his head in a sack for carrying corn and his feet exposed (27). This description explicitly links Douglass' experience back to that of the other slaves, "…old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed,—the cold, damp floor,—each covering themselves with their miserable blankets" (27). At age seven, Douglass is sent to work for Hugh Auld, a ship carpenter in Baltimore. Douglass states that working in the city, as a slave, is almost like being a freeman, compared to a slave on the plantation (Douglass 49). The young Douglass' growing sense of freedom is due in part to his new master's wife, Sophia Auld, who began to teach Douglass the alphabet (48). However, Hugh soon puts a stop to these reading lessons, warning his wife that teaching Douglass to read would forever ruin him as a slave (48). Douglass takes this lesson to heart, noting that this incident only inspired him and made him more determined to learn (48). It took seven years for Douglass to succeed in learning to read and write and he mentions various ways he used like offering bread to hungry white children in exchange for reading lessons. At the age of twelve, just after he learned to read, Douglass encounters The Columbian Orator, a collection of political essays, poems, and dialogues. Douglass thoughts of being “a slave for life” (Douglass 53) focuses on the master‑slave dialogue and the speech on behalf of Catholic emancipation. These pieces help Douglass to articulate why slavery is wrong, both philosophically and politically. The Columbian Orator then becomes a symbol