Essay on the Life of Frederick Douglas

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Frederick Douglass, a renowned abolitionist, greatly influenced America’s perception of slavery through his writings and actions. His experiences as a slave heavily impacted his literary works, and he achieved many significant accomplishments throughout his life. Notably, during the Civil War era, his exceptional oratory skills left an unforgettable impact on literature. He is widely recognized as the ultimate African American speaker and writer. Born into bondage in 1817 in Maryland, Douglass dedicated himself to gaining an education and liberating himself from the horrors of slavery. Although he initially failed in his escape attempt, he ultimately succeeded in 1838.

Frederick Douglass’ life as a slave greatly influenced his writings, making him a successful abolitionist writer. Despite enduring whippings, scarce meals, and other harsh treatments during his upbringing in slavery, he developed a thirst for freedom and burning hatred of slavery. These experiences inspired him to create the Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass and other biographies. Through this narrative, he portrayed the complete story of his wretched life as a slave and relentless pursuit of freedom. His unwavering determination to survive each day and eventually achieve freedom served as the main driving force behind his character. These well-crafted books were all based on his personal experiences, beginning with Douglass’ struggles in slavery. He had a clear intention in writing these works – as an impassioned abolitionist, he aimed to expose the true horrors of slavery to the world.

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Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave, played a significant role in enlightening and inspiring people about the unknown. This led many individuals to become abolitionists (Schomp, 25). His impact on American Civil War literature was transformative as he revolutionized perceptions of antislavery writings. Known primarily as a writer, Douglass excelled in his literary achievements. Additionally, his exceptional speaking abilities distinguished him as the unrivaled champion among abolitionists, regardless of race (McFeely, 206).

Douglass’s extraordinary oratory and intellectual prowess were so remarkable that opponents questioned his past as a slave and accused him of being a fraud supported by abolitionists. In response to these allegations, Douglass wrote the Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave in 1845. He continued revising it over the years until its final form was published in 1882 under the title Life and Times Of Frederick Douglass (Graves, 52).

During the Civil War era, Douglas’s exceptional oratory skills had the greatest impact on literature. His most significant autobiographical works include Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave; My Bondage And My Freedom; and Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass. Although these three books focus on the same individual and convey a similar message, each is written from a different perspective at various stages of Frederick’s life as he reflects upon his past experiences (Graves, 52).

In his book “Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass,” Douglass used a direct yet educated style to recount his experiences as a slave in Maryland. He mentioned competing with the dog, old ‘Nep,’ for crumbs that fell from the kitchen table due to hunger (Douglass, 34). This narrative is known for its concise and descriptive nature, making it easily understandable. It provides insights into the hardships of slavery from an actual slave’s perspective.

Furthermore, Douglass believed that God expressed displeasure towards white people for their immoral act of enslaving others and unleashed wrath upon the land because of it (Douglass, 89). Determined to gain an education, Douglass took on this task which proved invaluable. Without knowledge, he would not have attained freedom or recognized its significance. This fueled his aspirations and instilled hope above all else.

If he had not acquired knowledge, he would not have transformed into the person he became after gaining liberty. His ability to eloquently articulate issues related to slavery and propose solutions elevated him beyond being perceived as mere disposable labor in the North. Though limited resources presented challenges in learning how to read and write, Douglass utilized his cleverness and charm to persuade local schoolboys into teaching him the alphabet.

If he had not pursued knowledge, he would not have been able to write his autobiographies – crucial accounts of slavery that still exist today.Furthermore, lacking knowledge would have prevented him from achieving the revered position as an American icon that he currently maintains.

Frederick Douglass, after completing his Narrative, wrote another biography called “My Bondage And My Freedom” in 1855. This autobiography gave readers a more detailed account than the Narrative and offered deeper insights into Douglass’s experiences as a slave. It showcased his personal growth and development and demonstrated how he evolved as a writer. Additionally, it provided updates on Douglass’s life after gaining freedom, presenting a comprehensive narrative of his journey.

In 1881, Douglass released his final autobiography titled “Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass,” with an expanded edition published in 1892. This book covered every aspect of Douglass’s life and explored various topics such as his time in slavery, successful career as a speaker, and role as a respected diplomat. However, it faced criticism for containing repetitive material and being less enjoyable to read. According to McFeely (311), “Its time had passed-or so thought the public, which did not buy it.”

Despite limited interest from the public, many failed to recognize the true message of the book: preserving slavery’s history in America’s collective memory. After emancipation, white Americans grew tired of revisiting this subject matter and were reluctant to delve further into it. Simultaneously, black Americans felt an increasing sense of remorse for their enslaved pasts, as documented by Herschler (105).Frederick Douglass had his own publication called “North Star.” It functioned as an abolitionist newspaper while he was the editor for sixteen years. However, after slavery was abolished, the significance of this paper decreased and it stopped being published.

Frederick Douglass had a significant impact on the transformation of American literature during the Civil War era. The abolitionist movement was crucial to many individuals, including both former slaves and others. However, as Douglass himself had been enslaved, he had a compelling reason to fervently support the abolitionist cause. According to Schomp (78), abolitionists were not as prevalent or influential in the South, and their presence did not greatly impact the literature or way of life there. In contrast, the North held a higher standard and practice of abolitionism, as it was the desired destination for fleeing slaves. Consequently, the antislavery campaign became a popular topic for successful writers during this period.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, was a remarkable black speaker and writer who achieved great success through his fight against slavery. He authored three significant autobiographies which played a pivotal role in shaping literature during the Civil War. These autobiographies: “Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”; “My Bondage And My Freedom”; and “Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass,” effectively captured the nation’s disappointment with the treatment of slaves in the south. They chronicle the journey of a slave transforming into a free man, a respected orator, and a renowned writer and politician. Furthermore, Douglass was renowned for his abolitionist speeches and for publishing an influential abolitionist newsletter, the North Star. These remarkable achievements, coupled with his profound literary contributions, redefined the literary landscape of the time. Reading any of his works highlights Frederick Douglass’s immense importance in the abolitionist movement, as he profoundly impacted the lives of many and garnered respect from both African Americans and whites today. Without a doubt, he is deserving of my utmost respect and will forever remain the most successful abolitionist in my mind.

Douglass, Frederick. Escape From Slavery, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994
Douglass, Frederick. Life And Times Of Frederick Douglass, Rowell-Collier Company, 1892
Graves, Charles P. Frederick Douglass, Longmans Canada Limited, 1970
Herschler, Mildred. Frederick Douglass, Follett Publishing Company, 1969
McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass, W.W. Norton And Company, 1991

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