Breaker Essay, Research Paper
A major character within The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is Covey, a well-known slave-breaker. Frederick Douglass has just become Covey’s most recent challenge. As a slave-breaker, it is Coveys duty to use whatever means available to “break” Douglass and make him into a hard-working, docile creature. Covey uses various methods all containing flaws, such as physical abuse, mental abuse, and psychological terror to accomplish this task. None of Covey’s tactics, however, proved one hundred percent successful in breaking Douglass.The approach Covey uses in his attempts to break Douglass contain numerous flaws. The first of which is physical abuse. Covey, believing the best way to break a slave is physical abuse, begins his first meeting with Douglass by ferociously beating him. He continues inflicting vicious floggings and is always quick with the lash for any defiance by Douglass. Covey even goes so far as to set Douglass up for failure by issuing him tasks in which Douglass was doomed to fail at. Douglass recalls a flogging he received for breaking a gate with unbroken oxen; a task even Covey would never attempt. “This flogging was the first of a series of floggings, and though very severe, it was less so than many which came after it, and these for offenses far lighter than the gate-breaking” (756.)Douglass suffered physical abuse not only in the form of floggings, but of malnutrition and exhaustion as well. Douglass recalls that they were often kept in the fields until eleven or twelve o’clock at night. Covey pushed Douglass to his outermost limits, knowing just what Douglass was capable of. Physical abuse is not the only flaw in Covey’s approach to slave breaking; he also adds mental abuse to Douglass’s torture. Covey’s constant beatings were continual reminders of Douglass’s state as a lowly slave. Covey never passed up an opportunity to reinforce himself as master and Douglass as slave. One such incident occurred when Douglass was ordered to remove his clothes in order to receive a severe flogging. Regardless of the severity of the beating, it was dehumanizing for Douglass to be beat without clothing. Covey mentally abused all his slaves. Douglass sites an incident involving a slave Covey purchased to use as a breeder, “No better illustration of the unchaste, demoralizing, and debasing character of slavery can be found” claims Douglass with disgust (757).
The third most prominent flaw in Covey’s slave breaking approach is his relentless use of various forms of psychological terror. The slaves on Covey’s farm were in constant fear of Covey and his lash. Covey was always sneaking around, hiding behind some bush, or lying flat in a ditch ready to strike at any slave who became idle in his work. Douglass recalls yet another one of Covey’s attempts at trickery in which Covey would give the slaves their orders in advance as if he was going away for several days and then conceal himself behind the house in order to watch his slaves’ every move. Douglass described Covey as a sly snake, “He would creep and crawl in ditches and gullies, hide behind stumps and bushes, and practice so much of the cunning of the serpent” (756). Consequently every slave in Covey’s care remained anxious and fearful Covey. These flaws, however inhumane and unjust, were nonetheless part of Covey’s success in slave-breaking. Covey did, to a degree, break Frederick Douglass. Douglass admits to being broken in body, soul, and spirit, claiming “My natural elasticity was crushed; my intellect languished; the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died out; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me” (757). Although beaten and broken, Frederick Douglass regains his humanity. After a vicious confrontation with Covey in the barn, Douglass came to a turning-point in his life as a slave. The confrontation had renewed his spirit and given back his sense of manhood. As a slave Frederick Douglass endured all types of torment by Covey . Although flawed with physical abuse, mental abuse, and psychological terror, Covey’s approach proved successful. Covey had broken Douglass’s spirit, but this success was short-lived. Through a battle of strength and will with Covey, Douglass rekindled his spirit, and awoke his desire for freedom, thus proving Covey’s approach at slave-breaking unsuccessful, and setting Frederick Douglass free, if only in spirit.