Frederick Douglass 4 Essay, Research Paper
Douglass Portrayal of Women in Slavery in His Narrative
Frederick Douglass portrays the black and white women in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass at two opposite extremes in his innovative way of using the literary device of contrast to make his views clear and distinct to his readers. On one hand, there were the black female slaves who were beaten more severely, and more frequently than the male slaves. And on the other hand, there were the white female slave owners who seemed to execute the most malicious of the beatings. I trust he did this to further represent the misinterpretation of the role and the position of women in the system of slavery.
Douglass continuously displayed black women in his narrative as being the most frequently and viciously beaten of all the slaves. For instance, Douglass used graphic, image creating words to describe Hamiltons slaves Henrietta and Mary as mangled and emaciated creatures. In particular, he mentioned Mary s head being nearly covered with festering sores , and that the head, neck, and shoulders of Mary were literally cut to pieces. (p.276) To further add to the horror of these whippings, he pointed out that Mary was only fourteen years old. Also, when Douglass vividly explained his wife s fifteen-year-old cousin s murder he created a disturbing mental picture for the readers. Many of the immoral beatings such as her cousin s and Mary s in his narrative have been to the black females. I believe that this contrasting technique is quite effective in the sense that women are usually categorized as being frail and delicate, and yet in his narrative, the women are the ones who receive the most gruesome treatment.
Douglass depicts the white women in his narrative as being the most cruel and inhumane monsters in society. The way in which he describes their brutality as being due to the fatal poison of irresponsible power (p.274) is best said in the section when he discussed Mrs. Lucretia Auld s future transition from an angel to a demon. Examples of their inhumanity would be the stories of how it was Mrs. Hamilton who was responsible for all of the beatings to Henrietta and Mary. Also it was Mrs. Hick who murdered the cousin, and to further enrage the readers he mentioned that even though it was a horrid crime, it wasn t enough to bring the murderess to punishment. (p270) Portraying the white women in this way contradicted how they were thought of by the public. They were considered as composed, sensitive, and gentle human beings, yet Douglass shows his readers that the opposite was true.
Douglass uses the literary device of contrasting to portray black and white women in his narrative by placing them at the two opposite ends of a slavery hierarchy. I believe he did this to create emotional astonishment for his readers, as well as to clarify the misunderstanding of the situation of females, both black and white, in slavery.