Historical Truth And Imaginative Literature Essay, Research Paper
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass details the life of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, from his birth in Talbot County, Maryland to his speech (as a free man) during an anti-slavery convention in Nantucket, on August 11, 1841. The Narrative was written between 1844 and 1845 in Lynn, Massachusetts. It was published in May of 1845 and revealed his full identity. This was dangerous, because Frederick was not yet a free man.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass serves as both historical truth and imaginative literature. It is a story of both slavery and freedom. It is a “classic illustration of the will to power as the will to write, of physical and psychological liberation through language.” (pg. vvi) Douglass “provides a remarkable window into the world of oppression, cunning, and survival in which slaves lived, as well as the religious and ideological world of abolitionism…” (pg. vvi) It is a “tale of bondage, escape, and self-made public career.” (pg. vvi)
This Narrative truly captures the meaning of slavery. It details many of the traumatic experiences the slaves went through. In chapter one, the first thing we read is the story of Douglass’ Aunt Hester being whipped.
“He took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked. He then told her to cross her hands….After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook…..Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so she stood upon the ends of her toes…..he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood came dripping to the floor.” (pgs. 42- 43)
Several more times, we are told of the horrible realities of violence among slavery. In chapter four, the death of a young girl, between the ages of 15 and 16, was mangled. Her nose and breastbone were broken with a stick. Chapter ten details Frederick’s own beating.
“He ordered me to take off my clothes. I made him no answer, but stood with my clothes on. He repeated his order. I still made him no answer, nor did I strip myself. Upon this he rushed at me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time after. This whipping was the first of a number just like it…..”
The Narrative gives example after example of the hardship the slaves faced day in and day out. It speaks of the hopelessness each slave dealt
with. It speaks of the social degradation and of the want for common equality.
Frederick Douglass lead us to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. He was “the underground railroad” that provided freedom for so many slaves. He provides us with historical details that no white man could have given us. Not only did he provide us with physical evidence of abuse, but he provided us with the emotional distress behind such physical pains.
However, Douglass has given us an imaginative literary work. With the use of examples, song lyrics, poems, and speeches, Frederick produced “a deeply imagined story about the universal human quest for real, self- conscious freedom.” (pg. viii)
In chapter two, we are able to witness the lyrics of a slave song. A slave song that to many would seem meaningless, was actually “a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance.” (pg. 47)
I am going away to the Great House Farm!
O, yea! O, yea! O!
Within chapter eight, we are given, to read, a poem written by Whittier, a slave poet. I will present the first three lines.
Gone, gone, sold and gone
To the rice swamp dank and lone,
Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings…..
Douglass also gives biblical reference throughout his bibliography. On page 107, in the appendix, he gives a reference from Jeremiah. Chapter five is a time when Douglass explains how angels cheer him on through the gloom. He is speaking of a verse in Matthew, chapter four, that speaks of ministering angels.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass combined many aspect of literature and creative writing to produce “the most artistically crafted and widely read of all the American slave narratives.” His narrative touches the hearts and leaves the reader to “feel” the pains and sorrows of slavery, and the joys of freedom.