The Narrative Of Frederick Do Essay, Research Paper
The narrative of Frederick Douglass illustrates the life of a slave. He was not an ordinary slave.
Indeed he dreamed of freedom, just as all slaves did, but there was something about Frederick
Douglass that made him different. He dreamed of an education. It was this education that made
him to be different. It was the knowledge that gave him self awareness that he was a man just as
a white man was. It gave him the will to run away and live on his own. He no longer wanted to
subject himself to the punishment of the overseer. This knowledge brought him the strength to
stand up to those who thought themselves superior to him. It changed his personality and the
notion of his own self. In this paper I will discuss the changing self image, the personality, the
instances that reflect these changes and the point of the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass s notion of self in the novel revolve around the life that he lived. If it
weren t for certain aspects of his life, he wouldn t have thought about himself as he did. Slavery
scarred him just as other slaves. He was treated as property so he felt himself as property. In him
lied no burning desire for something better at an early age. He never fought or protested. He
merely went along with his work hoping that he would not be subjected to the overseers whip.
His notion of self at this time, as I said, was that of a normal slave – property. All he knew was
the slave world. He did not even know the love of a true family. He quotes, I never saw my
mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life His father was a white
man, so naturally he never saw him, since he had African blood in him.
Frederick Douglass never had the upbringing of a loved child. He was never taught that
he was special or unique in the world. He just knew that if he didn t work hard enough or do
what master said, the whip would crack. This all reflected on his notion of self. Which at the
beginning of the story was very low. Various incidences occurred in Frederick s life that
reflected the view of himself. One incident mirrors notion of self at the beginning of the story.
This was the first whipping that he ever saw. The first whipping was that of his Aunt Hester. At a
young age he stood at the bloodstained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery . He watched as
she was stripped, tied up, and shredded by the arm of the master. He watched her blood drip to
the floor and heard her heart-rending shrieks. This event struck me with awful force and gave
added to his own self notion. Slaves obeyed the rules or faced the consequences. As different
events occurred in his life, his attitude and notion changed. He was given to a different master. It
was here that things dramatically changed. The second significant event in Frederick s life came
at the young age of seven or eight, when he was given to Master Hugh and his wife, a distant
relative of Captain Anthony his former master. Here he was treated differently by his new
“family.” No longer did he have to fear the whip from wrong doings or not working hard enough.
His primary responsibility was to take care of their only child, Thomas. Also, Master Hugh s
wife was kind enough to teach Frederick to read. Her lessons would be short-lived, however, due
to Master Hugh s firm belief that it would be dangerous to teach a slave to read or write. He said,
If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his
master . Those words motivated Frederick to further his education and continue to learn
however he could. He felt as if some secret lay behind knowledge. So he read everything he
could. Eventually, newspapers and publications such as The Columbian Orator opened his eyes
to the abolitionist movements in the North. It was then that his self-image changed, and he
became aware of himself as more than just black property. His self-perspective changed when he
tasted his first bit of knowledge. It was then that his mind opened up and he began to think. He
found out that there was more out there…that there was opportunity out there for himself and his
people. He looked at his own situation and became angry. He became angry with the life he was
subject to. He became mad at the idea of slavery. He also gained pride. This was pride of a
human being. He realized that he himself was a human being, and that his black brothers and
sisters also were human beings. It also gave him agony, because it had given him a view of his,
wretched condition, without the remedy. This depressed him to the extent that he wanted to kill
himself. But, the realization that he was something in the world, kept him living, and fighting.
After this education, his self notion changed so much that he would actually fight back if a white
man came after him. He would no longer be treated as he had been treated his whole life. The
personality of Frederick Douglass is one that changes throughout the narrative. At the beginning
of the narrative, he had the personality of an unfortunate child born into the evils of slavery. He
depicted everything seen through the eyes of a child during the early stages of the narrative.
Everything remained this way until he became educated. It was then that the personality
began to change, just as his notion of self changed at that point. He began to change inwardly.
His personality seemed to morph into something different from what it had been. He began to
think more maturely and in a more educated fashion. He seethed from the inside and internally
emitted hatred as a reaction to the evils of slavery. All the while he thought. He thought about his
condition, the condition of others slaves, and of escaping. His esteem was uplifted from the
education, as said previously, and therefore his personality reflected that. He held himself higher
and because of that he changed throughout the narrative. He no longer was like a child looking at
everything, not able to do anything, and naive to the world. Now he was like fire, burning hotter
and hotter, engulfing everything, ready to explode.
The tone changed after this point as he expressed his hatred of his knowledgeably
existence. He suppressed much of it, but his personality changed. It stayed this way throughout
the rest of the narrative. At times his personality seemed patient. These were the times where he
had to wait for the time to come, when he could then let the fire come out…where he could let his
true personality come out and escape to freedom. With his relationship to slavery and his
personality he related to the reader. He had the biases of slaves. He depicted everything as he saw
or thought. This is not a fault, but merely the reaction of anyone who would go through such
events in his life. Even if Frederick Douglass tried to write an unbiased narrative, it still is one
He relates to the reader as one who is telling a story about himself. It does not seem that
he is trying to sway anyone, but just telling it as it was for him. He includes the feelings, the
details, the horrors of his life. He writes about how he was treated and the evils of slavery. It
describes the whipping in detail. He tells us of the shrieks of pain and the blood. Also he tells of
the fear of the white man and of punishment. Whenever he tells of a white person he does not
speak very kindly. Even when describes Master Hugh s wife as, a woman of the kindest heart
and finest feelings he then turns around and says how she changed to a woman of, harsh and
horrid discord . Of course not all white men are evil. It seems that he relates by trying to show
how in every way slavery is corrupt as exemplified through the life that he lived and what he
experienced. It seems that nothing good was ever achieved through it. It is when he escapes and
is free that he speaks of good things such as life, work, and abolition. In speaking like this he
tells the reader that there is nothing good in slavery – that only when there is no slavery good
things happen. It is not hard to see such things in his writings. The message is obvious and
because of that people relate.
In my view the autobiography is a depiction of the evils of slavery. That is its point. It
was written by a former slave and therefore contains the perspective of the slave. When the
personality change and the transition of self esteem is seen in the novel, one can conclude that
there are underlying meanings throughout the narrative. Such meanings are the importance of
education, and the clich of ignorance is bliss . That does not concern me at all. Of course they
are very relative in the story and are linked to very relevant incidents in the narrative, but they are
not essential to the main meaning of the autobiography. Which is slavery is evil. We did not need
this story to know that slavery was a very dark mark in the history of the United States. We did
not need this autobiography to know that morally, slavery is wrong. What this story did do was
make us see firsthand what went on in the mind of a slave and how they depicted themselves, and
slavery. The autobiography expressed many mixed feelings from Frederick Douglass s life, and
told his story. The only thing that bothers me is that it was told in great detail up to his escape
and after he escapes the narrative trails off and then ends. In my opinion Frederick wanted people
to read his story and be sympathetic with him and be outraged by slavery at that time. I think in
this sense he did a good job. On the other hand I think his autobiography is just another story of
slavery just as other former slaves stories are (for this time period). We know what happened,
and we know the stories. I personally do not hold his autobiography as any great work. To me it
is just another unfortunate slave story . Indeed it moved me but what can I do about it? There
isn t any slavery in the United States anymore.
In conclusion the notion of Frederick Douglass s self changes throughout the story. In
such a way his personality changes too. When looked at both one can conclude that they are
intertwined into the incidences that occurred in his life. The first incident being born into slavery
and treated as a slave, as exemplified with the whipping of his aunt. The other incident was his
education. That is when things changed. That is when the esteem changed as did the personality.
These are all very relevant to the story as Douglass tries to immerse the reader into the world,
mind, and life of a slave. To me though, the point is the entire overlying issue of the story. It is
true that these incidences and transitions make up the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, but
to me the autobiography only holds one main point that was made very clear…slavery is evil.
Douglass, Frederick. (1962) Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. New York: Collier Books, 1
The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass: Early Years 1817-1849. New York: International
Foner, Philip S. (1955) The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass: Reconstruction and After.
New York: International Publishers
Huggins, Nathan Irvin. (1980) Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass. Boston: Little,
Quarles, Benjamin. (1948) Frederick Douglass. Washington, D.C.: The Associated Publishers,
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