The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
One of the best African American slave narrative that sparked America
Introduction and thesis
When we think about slavery, we think about the gruesome act of fellow Americans who didn’t believe that African Americans deserved fair rights and freedom but instead chose to enslave them and force them into hard labor. We have read, learned, and heard about humanity’s cruelty during the late 1770s and even prior to that. There have been many books written about slavery, but one book that sparked America and really gave us a feel about the hardships and horrors of slavery at first hand was that of Frederick Douglass, a Narrative of his life written by himself. Despite the fact that this book has been published since 1845 and is the most talked about in our history shows how much Frederick has made a significant impact in the world. Frederick written testimony about what he had encountered as a slave from the hardships of working, beatings, cruel murders he witnessed, pursuing freedom, and many more, helped many people open their eyes and moved to abolish slavery.
About the Author
Frederick was born into slavery in 1817, Tuckahoe, Talbot County, Maryland; his mother was named Harriet Bailey, the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both people of color, and his father was a white man. Rumors were told that his master was his father. He was separated from his mother when he was an infant; he and his mother never had a genuine parent-child relationship due to their life, and when they had chances to meet, it was in the night and for a short period of time. She ended up dying when he was seven years old, so he was by himself in a cruel world.
He had two masters; the first was Captain Anthony, and the second was Hugh Auld. He had seen and witnessed many barbaric acts his fellow people had to endure under the hands of white masters, the cruelties that could drive one to commit suicide, which he thought of doing to himself while he was growing up.
After several attempts to escape slavery and failing, finally, on September 3rd, 1838, he successfully escaped to New York as a free man. He married twice, first to Murray Douglass, then Helen Pitts Douglass. He had five kids. His narrative book was published in 1845, covered all his trials and tribulations when he was a slave and victories as a free man advocating for abolishing slavery. Frederick Douglass died, in 1895, at the age of 78, but his legacy still lives throughout the world.
About the Book
Published in 1845, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the best-written and most widely read slave narratives. His autobiography tells us his story and what he went through as a slave. The book describes horrific things Douglass witness as a child and growing up in slavery. He witnessed his aunt get stripped naked and beaten till she was covered in blood by his owner, he witnessed the cruel murder of a slave who rebelled, he saw things that are too graphic even to speak up, but that was what he faced as a slave.
Douglass’s use of descriptive words, from the slashing of the cowskin to the brains gushing out of a slave’s head, shows us how gruesome and brutal masters were to their slaves. He talks about his two masters; cruel overseers, one in particular named Mr. Plummer; he would “cut and slash the women’s heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself” (Douglass). Frederick wasn’t like most slaves; he was lucky enough to learn his ABCs from one of his mistresses, allowing him to learn to read and write. Frederick also talked about escaping slavery and getting away successfully after many tries.
Frederick’s narrative covered many themes; the severity of slavery, the lack of education slaves, were allowed because if they learned how to read and write, they would no longer be manageable. Americans believed in Christianity, but most were the wrong kind because an honest Christian would never enslave a person or treat someone horribly, and his book covered many more.
Frederick Douglass’s narrative novel is considered one of the books that changed America because his biography sparked a movement called the Abolitionist movement in which he was also a key figure. Many Americans were shocked to have read his book and learned he was a slave; the way he carried himself and his knowledge, no one believed him when he said he was a slave.
This book was about the hardships he faced as a slave, his testimony about his survival and freedom. His story “received positive reviews from critics and became an immediate bestseller selling 5,000 copies within four months of its publication”(Anirudh). Frederick had other autobiographies; they all were considered classics of American Autobiographies. “This book put the challenges of slavery and race into a larger frame of American moral destiny” (Hahn).
Douglass went on to be an advocator for slavery and many other things. He was alongside Abraham Lincoln, advocating civil rights and signing the Emancipation of proclamation. One of his powerful lines was, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress” (Douglass). He proved the impossible and paved the way for many slaves and African Americans.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Boston, Anti-slavery office, 1845. Accessed 7 Jun. 2021
Anirudh. “10 Major Accomplishments of Frederick Douglass.” Learnodo Newtonic, 2 Sept. 2015, learnodo-newtonic.com/frederick-douglass-accomplishments. Accessed 7 Jun. 2021.
Hahn, Steven. “Frederick Douglass and the Arc of History.” EBSCOhost, Rutgers University, Raritan, 1 Apr. 2020, web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=3b825e59–1c93–4c20–842d-5c99fcf7be64%40sessionmgr4006. Accessed 7 Jun. 2021.