Purpose Of the Book
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is mainly dedicated to promotion of anti-slavery and abolitionism. The Northern Americans of the time limited themselves to “hiding the outcast”, and the book motivates them to welcome the runaway slaves more openly. To this end, Douglass describes the experiences, thoughts and opinions in detail. Thus, the book deals with showing the doubtful people who do not yet have a side in the conflict in what a desperate situation Southern slaves are.
Author’s Qualifications and Viewpoint
Frederick Douglass learned to read and write during his time in Baltimore as a house servant. After an unsuccessful attempt to escape he managed to do it in 1838. In 1841 he joined the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as an agent. As a literate former slave, has first-hand experience in slavery, which he is able to utilize for story-writing. His other works include My Bondage And My Freedom and Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass. Later on, Douglass became a key anti-slavery philosopher, deciding to create a new public philosophy. Therefore, Douglass’ account of slavery is precise, revealing details that an outsider would be unable to know of.
Thesis Of the Book
Despite not stating the thesis of book outright, some of Douglass’ conclusions are more prominent than others. As he describes his experience just to present information on slavery to the readers, the author repeatedly outlines how there are no happy slaves, which is not in line with the public perception of the matter of the time, while slaveholders are not affected in their cruelty by being devout Christians. Other main points include the important role of literacy and being able of standing up to abuse in the obtaining of freedom.
Summary Of Contents
The book begins with Douglass’ childhood. In the early chapter, the author describes the hardships of life in slavery on a plantation. The slaves were limited in food and clothes, regularly beaten, and sometimes killed. In the perception of the author of the essay, however, the key element of the early chapters is how the authors notes that he was “utterly astonished” to hear from Americans of the North that the slaves’ singing is a proof to their happiness. Douglass insists that, on the contrary, slaves sing when most unhappy.
In Chapter V, the author describes his departure to Baltimore, to serve as a house servant to one of his master’s relatives, whose wife taught him alphabet. Her husband stopped her initiative and persuaded her that literacy makes slaves disobedient. However, in doing so he caused exactly what he was trying to stop, making Douglass disobedient and wanting freedom. Thus, the author’s service in Baltimore changed his views and position on slavery.
The author’s temporary return to countryside demonstrated how different to other slave he now was: “It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy… I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity”. One of his masters, Thomas Auld, underwent a conversion to Methodist Christianity, but did not become more “kind and humane”. His next master’s beatings only ended when Douglass retaliated during one of them, further developing his understanding of the necessity of freedom. Thus, these events, eventually leading to Douglass’s escape, are shown to be the main motivators for freedom.
Author’s Use of Evidence
As the book is mostly a memoir, the author uses his own memory to illustrate his points. More so, his points and main thesis are generally conclusions from his experiences, so, when he formulates an idea, it is usually already well illustrated. Douglass’ travels have become a useful representation of the American world of the time. The book is divided into eleven chapters, including, additionally, a preface by Lloyd Garrison, a letter by Wendell Phillips, an appendix, and a parody. The author’s writing style is simple and approachable for the reader, even if it is a little outdated. Thus, the book is well structured, as well as easy to navigate and read, the author’s points are based on experience and are well illustrated by the said experience.
The main purpose of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is somewhat outdated now. While making public understand the nature of slavery was important for its period, modern Americans do not support slavery in any form, and while racism in America remains a big problem, it is much less widespread than it was in Douglass’ lifetime. However, the book can still find other uses in which it can be effective. For example, it can be exported to foreign countries so that foreigners understand American history better, which may lead to slavery and racism being condoned in the world. The author of the Assessment can recommend the book to modern foreign racists (to make them understand how wrong what they support is). Thus, while the author’s purpose of informing others of the nature of slavery is accomplished and somewhat redundant, the book can still be used for different causes.
Bromell, Nicholas Knowles. The Powers of Dignity the Black Political Philosophy of Frederick Douglass. Durham, United States: Duke University Press, 2021.
Douglass, Frederick. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” The Project Gutenberg eBook of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. An Anonymous Volunteer and David Widger, 1992. Web.
Harris, Leslie M. “The Nineteenth-Century World of Frederick Douglass.” Reviews in American History 48, no. 1 (2020): 48–55. Web.