English 11H – Vasile
April 20, 2018
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Response Paper
During the 19th century, slavery was a prominent issue affecting American culture and society. In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, former slave Frederick Douglass recalls and narrates his personal experience as a slave growing up in 19th century America. Throughout the narrative, as readers we are overcome with graphic details and descriptions regarding the effects of slavery on not only the slaves themselves, but the slave owners as well. The narrative reveals jaw-dropping information about the dehumanizing effects of slavery and its effect on humankind. Despite this, Douglass eventually learns that education is the key to freedom, inspiring him to learn and become a freedman. This heartfelt narrative leaves readers with a clear understanding of the brutal impacts of slavery on everyone involved, the importance of education, and the achievement of freedom.
When we hear the term ‘slavery’ in reference to American history, we tend to think of the appalling physical abuse African- American people endured during the 19th century. Using graphic details, Douglass often touches upon the traumatizing physical abuse he witnessed and experienced growing up as a slave. However, the emotional abuse that slaves experienced was just as harmful and life-changing. Early on in the narrative, Douglass reveals that he was deprived of knowing his own age. This immediately angered me. Everyone is entitled to know the day they were born and just because of the color of Frederick Douglass’s skin, he was deprived of this privilege. Furthermore, while reflecting upon the lives of Old Barney and Young Barney, Douglass reveals that, “They never knew when they were safe from punishment. They were frequently whipped when least deserving it, and escaped whipping when most deserving it” (Douglass 10). This quote especially stood out to me because I could not imagine living my life in complete and utter fear. Through the detailed insights Douglass shares, not only is the reader exposed to the brutal mental impacts slavery had on the slaves, but we are also exposed to the mental impacts slavery had on the slave owners. It had never occured to me that owning slaves had detrimentally affected the mental health of slaveholders. On multiple occasions, Douglas refers to how often slaveholders are drawn to making immoral decisions due to their positions in slaveholding. Many Christian slaveholders turned to biblical references in order to justify their behavior, making them utter hypocrites.
In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp- meeting held in the bayside, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him for cruel and hateful in all his way. (Douglass 32)
This quote shows how many men turned to religion in order to justify their positions as slaveholders. Slavery made many christian slaveholders more cruel, heartless, and turned many into hypocrites. However, the most obvious example of slavery changing slaveholders for the worst is Sophia Auld. At first, Sophia Auld appeared as a kind and sympathetic woman who was thrilled to welcome Douglass into her home. However, when her husband scorned her for teaching Douglass how to read and write, she eventually became cruel and heartless. Douglass says, “Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness” (Douglass 22). This example alone spoke to me and made me wonder how someone could change so quickly and become so cruel. Slavery’s effects were both life changing and brutal to everyone involved.
Before Sophia Auld turned on Douglass completely, she felt the need to teach him how to read, like her own son Tommy. However, when she was scolded for treating Douglass with kindness, compassion, and teaching him to be literate, Douglass “understood the pathway from slavery to freedom” (Douglass 21). This inspired me because I never really thought about the crucialness of education. As someone who has had access to education their whole lives, I realized that I do in fact take my education for granted. Without education, I would not be able to obtain a successful life. I believe that education is a human right and the fact that slaves did not have access to education is despicable. When Ms. Auld stopped instructing Douglass, he befriended white children on the streets in order to continue his education. “The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read” (Douglass 24). Douglass’s will to learn is inspiring, for it would one day guide him to freedom.
While the narrative is prominently about the evils of slavery, Douglass delivers a powerful message that can be applied to anyone and everyone. Freedom of the human spirit can be achieved through hard work and dedication. With the help of God and his own determination, Douglass was able to obtain freedom for himself. However, he had to work hard in order to be free. Douglass was a strong believer in the fact that African- Americans are humans too. During his time, this fact was only an inferior idea. He had many hopes for this nation and believed that one day the evils of slavery would be abolished.
While reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I found myself emotionally attached to Douglass’s life story. Douglass was able to reveal the true horrors of slavery through his writing, allowing readers to get a detailed insight. With strength, perseverance, and the help of literacy, Douglass was able to obtain freedom. However, he continued to live his life in fear, while being forever damaged by the evils of slavery. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass reveals jaw-dropping information about the dehumanizing effects of slavery and its effect on humankind.