Frederick Douglass Essay, Research Paper
Frederick Douglas’s narrative, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, depicts a vivid reality of the hardships endured by the African American culture in the period of slavery. One of the many things shown in Frederick’s narrative is how slaves, in their own personal way, resisted their masters authority. Another is how slaves were able to create their own autonomous culture within the savagely brutal system in which they were bound. There are many examples in the narrative that Frederick tries to show the resistance of the slaves. The resistors did not go unpunished though, in fact they were punished to the severity of death. Fredrick tells these instances with a startling sense of casualness, which is rather odd feeling when comprehending the content of them. He does this though, not out of desensitization, but to show that these were very commonplace things that happened all over the South at the time.
One example that Frederick mentioned in the subject of resistance of the slaves against the masters is when he was under the charge of Mr. Gore. A slave by the name of Demby was getting whipped for a mistake he made. After Demby received but a few stripes he ran and jumped into a creek to the depth of his shoulders and refused to come out. This took great bravery considering Mr. Gore had a famous reputation for being nasty to slaves. Demby was given to the count of three to get out of the creek or he was to be shot, knowing the consequences Demby still refused to get out. He was then shot in the face by Mr. Gore with a musket. Demby truly resisted his master at the greatest cost he could have paid, his life.
Another example given by Frederick in his narrative of how slaves were able to resist is that of himself dealing with an overseer named Mr. Covey. Frederick had fallen ill during his work one day and was no longer physically able to even stand any longer. When Mr. Covey saw this he immediately started beating Frederick, after doing his worst and seeing that it would not help to continue he stopped. When Frederick regained his strength he fled 7 miles to his master to seek refuge and ask protection, upon hearing his request his master told him not to trouble him with such stories, and sent him back the next morning. When Frederick finally returned to Mr. Covey he was deceived into thinking that Mr. Covey was not angry with him. But when Mr. Covey then attempted to beat him he seized Covey by the throat and fought him for two hours until Covey gave up. This shows a literal fight for the rights he deserved.
Yet another example shown by Frederick of slaves being able to resist their masters is by the sacrifices of his mother to come and see him. Because a method often used by slaveholders of keeping the slaves weak is to keep their families and loved ones separated. By coming to see him as a boy in the night Frederick’s mother resisted those methods.
As a result of slavery in a whole a distinct slave culture emerges. In this culture privileges are few, but the few privileges are greatly valued. For example, in the slave culture singing was a very popular and important part of their lives, it was one of the few ways they were allowed express themselves. They would sing of their sorrows and of their joys. In the words of Frederick, “They would compose and sing as they went along, consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up, came out-if not in the word, in the sound;–and as frequently in one as the other. They would sometimes sing the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone.”
Another large part of slave culture was the Sabbath activities. On the Sabbath the slaves were given the day off and allowed to do pretty much as they pleased. They fished for oysters, tended gardens, played games, rested, and if they were lucky they were allowed to hire their work out to make a profit.
Along with the idea of the resting of the Sabbath, the masters allowed the days between Christmas and New Years to be work free except for daily chores. Slaves partook in the same types of activities as they would on the Sabbath. The masters actually expected the slaves to be drunk during this time; in fact, they often got angry if they weren’t drunk. Frederick feels that the master tries to make the slaves sick of freedom during this holiday time, by showing them only the abuse of it rather than the good.
There was also a mention of a couple of “classes” among the black slaves. Slaves, from the viewpoint of Frederick, I feel, had a sort of “slave-class”. The richer your master was the higher class you were, the poorer your master was the lower class you were. “To be a poor man’s slave was a disgrace indeed!”, was what Frederick mentioned of the issue.
As you can see Frederick Douglass provided many glimpses into the world of slavery in his narrative. He showed many different examples of how slaves were able to resist their masters and create their own autonomous culture within the brutal system of slavery.