Narrative Of Fredrick Douglas Essay Research Paper

Narrative Of Fredrick Douglas Essay, Research Paper

The brutality that slaves endured form their masters and from the institution of

slavery caused slaves to be denied their god given rights. In the Narrative of the Life of

Frederick Douglass, Douglass has the ability to show the psychological battle between

the white slave holders and their black slaves, which is shown by Douglass own

intellectual struggles against his white slave holders. I will focus on how education

allowed Douglass to understand how slavery was wrong, and how the Americans saw the

blacks as not equal, and only suitable for slave work. I will also contrast how Douglass

view was very similar to that of the women in America, and the role that Christianity

played in his life as a slave and then as a free man.

The novel clearly displays the children s animalistic behavior when they were not

regularly allowanced. Douglass says, Our food was coarse corn meal boiled, which was

called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground.

The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come

and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with

naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest

secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied” (Douglass 41-42). This clearly

describes how children where treated like animals and their inability to act in the manner

of a normal educated child. Slave children were denied many luxuries that other children

took for granted. The knowledge of their birthdays was one of these luxuries. Douglass

states, “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record

containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses

know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their

slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his

birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time,

springtime, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of

unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I

could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege” (Douglass 19). This

passage clearly indicates differences between white children and slave children. These

differences build the foundation for demeaning the child into a slave and removing his

manhood from his soul. This is the start of the process that extracts a brute from a child.

Throughout the narrative Douglass uses the word brute , to form the image that

slaves were nothing more than beasts. This is only one of the numerous examples in

which Douglass creates the image of a dehumanized slave though the use of his

vocabulary. Douglass states, I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity

was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark

that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a

man transformed into a brute! (Douglass 73). Douglass makes it clear to the reader that

slavery degrades a man, and makes him loose his manhood. According to Douglass,

slavery transformed humans into beasts. Douglass was no longer a man; he was in every

essence an animal transformed by the brutality of slavery into a mindless worker.

Slavery was just an institution created animals from men; it bleeds the humanity

from humans and formed beasts in it s wake that need nothing but a comparatively small

amount of cultivation to make him an ornament to society and a blessing to his race. By

the law of the land, by the voice of the people, by the terms of the slave code, he was only

a piece of property, a beast of burden, and a chattel person. Divine supports this thought

by stating, slaves were also valuable property and the main tools of production

(Divine 235). With this, we are able to see how the slaves were not looked at as people

but as commodities, thus demeaning them into objects and not humans. Frederick

Douglass salvages his human nature though education and self-determination. When

Douglass first got a taste of knowledge, he then understood the power in which it held.

Douglass states, I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty-to

wit, the white man s power to enslave the black man (Douglass, 47). This was Douglass

first step towards freedom, which was learning what he had to do to get there, that was to

learn and gain the white man s knowledge. Douglass says, From that moment, I

understood the pathway from slavery to freedom (Douglass, 47). This revelation came

upon him after hearing his master, Mr. Auld reprehend Mrs. Auld for teaching Douglass

spelling. Mr. Auld states, If you give a nigger and inch, he will take an ell (Douglass,

47). Education and literacy would allow a slave to see that there was another way of

living and were not inferior to the white man. Divine supports the idea that the white men

felt they were superior to the blacks by saying, Blacks, it was alleged, were innately

inferior to the whites and suited only for slavery (Divine 237). Douglass became aware

that the efforts of the whites were to prevent a power struggle from ever occurring by

preventing the slave from thinking that equality could ever take place. Douglass set his

heart on becoming educated, allowing him to challenge the power of the white man.

Douglass says, given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking

the ell (Douglass 51). Thus the desire for freedom was exited by his understanding of the

whole and its functions. When Douglass was a plantation slave, he knew little of these

facts and thus had no desire to escape, but as Douglass was gaining intellect he was

breaking the chains of his enslavement. Along the way to gaining intellect, Douglass

faced many obstacles, many of which were brought about by slaveholders, which brought

him to his deepest despair in life. Mr. Covey is an excellent example of a slaveholder who

would do everything in his power to prevent his slaves from thinking of freedom. His

method was to work his slaves so hard that their spirit and aspirations were detached from

them, seeming more like dreams than reality. The description of Douglass emotional

state shows the tortured mind of the slave in a life of despair, Sunday was my only

leisure time. I spent this in sort of a beast like stupor I sank down again, mourning

over my wretched condition. I was sometimes prompted to take my life, and that of

Covey, but was prevented by a combination of hope and fear. My sufferings on this

plantation seem now like a dream rather than a stern reality (Douglass 73). The efforts of

the whites to keep their slaves suppressed were so strong that even Douglass knowledge

could barely keep him fighting. At times he even regretted knowing the things, which he

had learned, for it made him all the more miserable for being a slave and knowing that

there were others who did not share in his agony. Douglass says, I would at times feel

that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing (Douglass 53). Douglass

speaks of this because the knowledge of freedom makes it more difficult to endure the

suffering of slavery. He knows what it is like to experience something of a good

treatment, and he is educated enough to realize that it is something entirely different to be

free. Christianity also played a role in the way Douglass struggled with his existence and

how he viewed the southern slaveholders that were so called Christians. Douglass would

cry out, O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! Let me be Free! Is

there any God? (Douglass 74). Douglass started to see a pattern with his masters, in

which the more religious, the more brutal their actions became. Douglass says, I believe

him (Mr. Covey) to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before

(Douglass 65). Sarah M. Grimke further backs up this notion in the antebellum chapter of

Gorn Document 3 by saying, In Christian America the slave has no refuge from

unbridled cruelty and lust (Gorn 212). How could a man call himself a Christian and still

act out so much hate on an individual was a question that would come up often in the

discussions of Christianity when viewed with slavery. Sarah M. Grimke writes in Gorn

Document 3, gratify the brutal lust of those who bear the name of Christians (Gorn

212). This shows that the slaves were not the only individuals that saw the wrongful

placement of the word Christian on the shoulders of the southern men. Once in the north,

Douglass saw that the south s religion was not that of the truth, and is nothing more than

a false testimony that was used to make the southerners look as though they were in the

right. A good example of this is how Mr. Covey would recite scripture while beating a

slave, Douglass says, he would quote this passage of scripture He that knoweth his

masters will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many strips (Douglass 66). Douglass

backs this up further when writing a letter to Mr. Auld in Gorn Document 5, which says,

They (North) have little respect for your honesty, and less for you religion (Gorn 241).

Douglass further supports this by saying, that the religion of the south is a mere covering

for the most horrid crimes, a justifier of the most appalling barbarity (Douglass 84). The

religion in which Douglass grew up knowing and hearing from the southern men was not

that of the true religion of God, but that of hate. Douglass small steps toward freedom

included more than just physical battles against the whites. He shows that to become free,

involves more than simply running north, but the road to freedom, is instead, shown to be

a power struggle and a long draining intellectual process of learning and maturing. One

can see that Douglass determination to be free was a result of gaining knowledge. In a

world where the haves sit on knowledge, language was power, and language was

Douglass first key to freedom, then his armor, and finally his sword. He turned on his

oppressors and raised it against them, and his words became a healing balm and a fixer of

wrongs of slavery. Douglass sums this up great when writing a letter to Mr. Auld in Gorn

Document 5 by saying, I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the

system of slavery-as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and

deepening their horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of me make use of you as a

means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy-and as a means of

bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance (Gorn 242). We also see how the

women in antebellum America shared the views of the black slaves, in seeing that it was

inhumane to treat another human in such a brutal way. These women and the run away

slaves such as Douglass helped to start the anti-slave movement in North America, and

started to challenge the southern religion. Throughout the book, we saw Douglass go

through several life changes, from slavery to freedom, from the south to the North, from a

young man of many names to the adult named Frederick Douglass, thus in the end, this

gifted man helped America come to terms with slavery as it really was.

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