Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is an autobiographical book written by Frederick Douglass and published in 1845. A former slave, the author recollects his passed life as a slave in the South and reveals the numerous the atrocities of the institution of slavery. The book is a recollection of the years spent as a constantly oppressed and humiliated slave.
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In such a way, his own experiences that Frederick Douglass narrates in the book tell us a lot about slave life in the nineteenth century. As Douglass notes, three or four hundred slaves in the plantation where he worked lived hard life full of constant hardships: they had their small allowance of food, and received around seven dollars in order to cover their bodies with clothes. There were even no beds for slaves to sleep on and they often slept all together on the floor in cold nights.
When he was relocated to the city, Douglass was treated not very bad, which suggests better conditions of city slaves when compared to those in plantations. Most importantly, here he learned to read and write here, which was extremely important to Douglass. The young man perceived that literacy was his path towards freedom. It provided him with the hope not to die as a slave but spend several years being a free man. Interestingly, the autobiography can also be interpreted in lieu of the writerr’s re-evaluation of the Christian beliefs on the subject of slavery. Sometimes, Douglass writing style reminds of the Biblical manner of narrative. Nevertheless, Christianity as presented by the author appears to be of dual nature when he reveals the hypocrisy of slave owners who call themselves Christians. The narrator refers to slaves as precious souls are to-day shut up in the prison-house of slavery (Douglass & Garrison, 1845, p.70).
He simply cannot understand how this universe can be ruled by a righteous God when so many suffering and injustice are around: and for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not to smite the oppressor, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the spoiler? (Douglass & Garrison, 1845, p.70). Douglass wonders why men and women are sold into slavery to build churches and children are sold to buy Bibles all for the glory of God and the good of souls! The slave auctioneerr’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master (Douglass & Garrison, 1845, p.102).
Besides, Douglass narrates his experience as a slave through the concepts of hierarchy and subordination. The author makes it clear that he understands how financial and social hierarchies work: when pointing out that it is very bad to be a slave and instantly ironically notes that being a slave to the more laborious poorer classes is even worse. Douglass further analyses Mr. Auldr’s sarcastic idea on education and the hazards associated with it. For the owner, learning is very dangerous for the entire slave system: the man was convinced that even the best slave can be spoilt once s/he gets educated: A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master”to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. (Douglass & Garrison, 1845, p.29).
Even being an educated free man, Douglas mentions that as a former slave, he does not know an exact date of his birth. Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine how people can live without knowing when they were born. This confession also tells a lot about the atrocities of the institution of slavery in the nineteenth century, one group of people treated others as non-humans. Another proof that the narrator was treated not like a human being, but as an animal is the fact that he did not even have his own surname. Only after becoming a free person, he chose the surname Douglass for himself. Douglass worldview changed over time after becoming free, he did not express hatred towards slave owners but spoke of them in an objective way. Deeply impressed with his emotive speech, the anti-slavery society granted him a lectureship, and Douglass managed to publish his autobiography.
Therefore, the suffering he endured did not make him cruel and hating person instead, Douglass became stronger and more resistant to the future hardships in his life. It is noteworthy that the narration hardly contains the speeches full of hatred since Douglass manages to distance himself from revenge. As an objective writer, Douglass tends to analyze his past in the tone of insight. Still, some scenes described by him are truly emotional and hard to read even for the contemporary reader: it is believed that a dozen slaves put to the lash is suffering is better than when an overseer is punished in the presence of slaves, for being at fault (Douglass & Garrison, 1845, p.18).
In conclusion, as an autobiographical book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass comprises so much more than just a record of historical data and official account of events. While reading the book, the reader can picture the nineteenth century slavery and understand what it took the narrator to become a free man. It is hardly possible not to empathize with Douglass as the former slave. The very institution of slavery appears even more abominable, absurd, and cruel after reading this powerful anti-slavery tract. The life experience as a slave in the South was painful, but it made the narrator whom he became at the end, the symbol of humanr’s persistence to gain freedom.
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