Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was one of the most prominent figures of the abolitionist movement, a movement that fought to end slavery. A brilliant speaker, Douglass engaged in a tour of lectures, and became recognized as one of America’s first great black speakers. Douglass also wrote a personal narrative in 1845 titled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Taylor 34).
Through his book , Frederick Douglass aimed to educate the uninformed Northern audience of the time. Douglass writes that before his book, the only side being shown to the North was the
Southern Slave Master's side. This biased point of view did not paint an accurate picture of life in the South. In the book's preface, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips express that this book is unlike any other slave narrative that has been published to this point because this book has been written by an actual slave who escaped from the horrors of slavery and lived to tell his story. Amani 2
Frederick Douglass was born to an African American slave mother, Harriet Baily, and a white slaveholder (Douglass 12). Since childhood Douglass was enslaved by many different families including the Lloyds and the Aulds. While working for the Aulds the slavemasters wife
Sophia taught young Douglass how to read. When the Slavemaster, Hugh Auld, found out that
Douglass was learning to read he became furious because it was unlawful to teach a slave to read. Hugh Auld believed that if a slave knew how to read and write that this would make him unfit to be a slave(Douglass 52). Douglass learned from his master’s outburst that if learning how to read and write was his pathway to freedom, then gaining this knowledge was to become his goal.
Douglass later had a ruthless master by the name of Covey who was also known as the
“nigger-breaker”(Douglass 80). One day Covey began tying Douglass to a post in preparation for a whipping, Douglass said, “At that moment from whence came the spirit I don’t know, I resolved to fight (Douglass 81).” Covey and Frederick fought for almost two hours until Covey finally gave up. After this, Douglass was passed on to other slaveholders until eventually he was then sent again to Hugh Auld in Baltimore and was hired out to a local shipbuilder so that he could learn the trade. Within a year, he was an experienced caulker and was being paid wages, which he in turn gave to Hugh Auld (Douglass 15). Through this job Douglass managed to pull of a successful escape disguised as a sailor. Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential men of the anti-slavery movement, as well as being a supporter of woman’s rights. As great orator he often used his first hand experience as a slave to help build support for the abolitionist movement. After reading the book I felt that Douglass’s purpose for this narrative was primarily to educate northerners about the reality of slave life. “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man” was my favorite quote from the book (Douglass 53).
This quote made the message of the book clear to me because the narrative is about all the hardships Douglass faces as a slave yet he still becomes a free man in the end. In 1845 when the book was published slavery was commonly practiced throughout the United States (Taylor 22).
The publication of this narrative not only gave northerners a closer look at slavery, but also evidence to refute arguments made supporting slavery and it exposed the scenic picture of slavery painted by slaveholders. The narrative was mainly for the northerners to see the south for what it truly was, but the narrative had a world wide impact as it was translated into many languages such as French, German, Dutch, and Russian.
In relation to the 19th century discourse on slavery, Douglass challenges many ideas throughout his narrative. For example, Douglass learned to