The Narrative Of Frederick Do Essay Research

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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