My Bondage, My Freedom - Abolitionism Essay Example

First published in 1855, this book tells the story of Fredrick Douglass’ life first as a slave, then as a fugitive, and finally as a free man working to free the rest of the slaves in the American South from bondage - My Bondage, My Freedom introduction. My Bondage and My Freedom is widely considered to be one of the most historically influential documents produced in the midst of the abolitionist movement. Written by a former slave, the memoir served as a moving argument against the inhuman institution of slavery in American history. In this essay, I plan to expound upon occurrences in the book, the political climate of the era,

My Bondage, My Freedom shows Douglas was a very well educated man who could write very well, and engage his readers with his stories of his life and troubles - my bondage and my freedom sparknotes. He shows what it is like to be a slave; how violent and unfair the masters can be. Douglas also portrays Black people as capable of anything, which many white people did not believe at the time. Fredrick Douglass has gone down in American History as one f the greatest minds in history. Within this book, he did not resort to arguments of reason or philosophy in the work in an attempt to illustrate the immorality of slavery, as many other scholars may have done.

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Instead, perhaps because of his education and natural intelligence, coupled with a keen awareness of public sensibility, he refrained from attacking those responsible for using slaves, as well as those responsible for supporting the institution, itself. Instead, recognizing the limitations of his time and dominant social culture, he used the device of emotion to convey the brutality to the sympathetic part of his reader’s psyches. In My Bondage My Freedom, Douglass is separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey, soon after he is born and is raised by his grandparents.

Much like that of Harriet Jacobs, the author of Life As A Slave Girl, Douglass life on the plantation is not as harsh during his early childhood. Young Fredrick grows on one of the many plantations owned by a heartless man named Colonel Lloyd. Life on any of Lloyd’s plantations, like that on many Southern plantations, is brutal. Slaves are overworked and exhausted, receive little food, few articles of clothing, and no beds. Those who break rules, and even those who do not, are beaten or whipped, and sometimes even shot by the plantation overseers, the cruelest of which are Mr. Severe and Mr. Austin Gore. At the age of seven, he is given to Captain Anthony’s son?in?law’s brother, Hugh Auld, who lives in Baltimore. There, Douglass enjoys a relatively freer life. In general, city slave-owners are more conscious of appearing cruel or neglectful toward their slaves in front of their non?slaveowning neighbors. Sophia Auld, Douglass’ masters wife, has never had slaves before, and she is surprisingly kind to Douglass at first. She even begins to teach Douglass to read, until her husband orders her to stop, saying that education makes slaves unmanageable.

Eventually, Sophia succumbs to the mentality of slaveowning and loses her natural kindliness. Though Sophia and Hugh Auld become crueler toward him, Douglass still takes advantage of his new-found resources and is able to teach himself to read with the help of local boys. As he learns to read and write, Douglass becomes conscious of the evils of slavery and of the existence of the abolitionist movement. At the peak of his clarvoyance, Douglass’ master dies and Fredrick is taken back to serve Thomas Auld, Captain Anthony’s son?in?law. Auld is mean spirited and heartless.

Auld considers Douglass unmanageable, so Auld rents him for one year to Edward Covey, a man known for “breaking” slaves. Covey manages, in the first six months, to work and whip all the spirit out of Douglass. Douglass becomes a brutish man, no longer interested in reading or freedom, capable only of resting from his injuries and exhaustion. During a pivitol point in the book, Douglass has the fight of his life with his new, temporary master; a fight, that Douglass wins. To the reader, this fight represaents Douglass’s fight against mental enslavement, after being brutally beaten daily and objectified. Spark Notes, 2002) It is at this point in Douglass’ story that I feel the most compassion for his struggle. After, being beaten and degraded daily he did something other slave would have never fathomed– he stood up and fought back. After his stint at Covey’s plantation, Douglass was rented to William Freeland for two years, where Douglass teaches other slaves to read whiole still yearning for his freedom. Douglass and a few other slaves, devise a plan to run-away to the North in search of freedom. Those dreams are dashed when thier plans are foiled but an informant and they are all sent to jail.

Eventually, Douglass is released and works as a ship cualker, where he learns of whites being threatened by freed slaves taking their jobs. Douglass discusses soured race relations on the job in the ship yard. Though only an apprentice and still a slave, Douglass encounters violent tactics of intimidation from his white coworkers and is forced to switch shipyards. In his new apprenticeship, Douglass quickly learns the trade of caulking and soon earns the highest wages possible, always turning he wages over to his master Hugh Auld.

Eventually, Douglass receives permission from Hugh Auld to hire out his extra time. He saves money bit by bit and eventually makes his escape to New York. Douglass refrains from describing the details of his escape in order to protect the safety of future slaves who may attempt the journey. In New York, Douglass fears recapture and changes his name from Bailey to Douglass. Soon after, he marries Anna Murray, a free woman he met while in Baltimore. They move north to Massachusetts, where Douglass becomes deeply engaged with the abolitionist movement as both a writer and an orator. Spark Notes, 2002) Historically, it is important to discuss the occurences of Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography in context. In the early 1840s, the abolitionist movement was gaining momentum, especially in the far Northeast. When Douglass first arrived in Massachusetts, he began reading the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison. In 1841, Douglass attended an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he met Garrison and was encouraged to tell the crowd about his experiences of slavery.

Douglass’s spoken account was so well?received that Garrison offered to employ him as an abolitionist speaker for the American Anti?Slavery Society. From 1841 to 1845, Douglass traveled extensively with Garrison and others through the Northern states, speaking nearly every day on the injustice and brutality of slavery. Douglass encountered hostile opposition and, most often, the charge that he was lying. Many Americans did not believe that such an eloquent and intelligent Negro had so recently been a slave. Douglass encountered a different brand of opposition within the ranks of the Anti?Slavery Society itself.

He was one of only a few black men employed by the mostly white society, and the society’s leaders, including Garrison, would often condescendingly insist that Douglass merely relate the “facts” of his experience, and leave the philosophy, rhetoric, and persuasive argument to others. Douglass’s 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself can be seen as a response to both of these types of opposition. The Narrative pointedly states that Douglass is its sole author, and it contains two prefaces from Garrison and another abolitionist, Wendell Phillips, to attest to this fact (Spark Notes, 2002).

Many black writers, had to show proof or authenticity of their works; which proved the true disbelief of the intelligence and competence of African Americans of the time. The genre of the “slave memoir” was hardly a novel form during the years of the abolitionist movement. Indeed, several accounts exist of the experiences of emancipated or escaped slaves. However, during that time, although such accounts did gain popular readership, and even greater readership within anti-slave circles, the accounts were often regarded with some amount of suspicion.

Indeed, many charged that the stories coming from the pens or oral accounts, of former slaves were either negatively skewed or fabricated, or were outright fictional propaganda, forged by white abolitionists with political and economic motives. However, in spite of this fact, many educated former slaves were thrown into a quandary when they considered their options for communicating their heartfelt opinions about the brutality of slavery-for even in the North, dominant white culture was not ready for “attacks” literal or literary against the white slave owners as a whole.

It is for this reason that ex-slave abolitionists like Fredrick Douglass specifically used emotional arguments to mould the responses of their readership-especially in his work, My Bondage and My Freedom. Indeed, the reader is almost immediately struck on a “gut” level by the horrific and graphic images of brutal treatment and torture-amid glaringly incongruous biblical allusions invoked by the slave owners in the midst of their horrible actions: Master would keep this lacerated young woman tied up in this horrid situation our or five hours at a time.

I have know him to tie her up early in the morning and whip her before breakfast, leave her, go to his store, return at dinner, and whip her gain, cutting her in the places already made raw with his cruel lash. (Douglass, 33) In fact, Douglass even went so far as to describe the murder of a fellow slave, not much more than a child, by a woman, no less-writing, “The wife of Mr. Giles Hick, living but a short distance from where I used to live, murdered my wife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age, mangling her person in the most horrible manner… (Douglass, 15). Indeed, using this method of illustration was exponentially more effective than mere ethical arguments; Douglass was well aware of that fact. To be sure, Douglass’ hard-earned education taught him that realism as a rhetorical device is without peer, especially when attempting to reach a wide audience. After all, trying to explain to someone that “causing another to suffer is bad,” is much more complicated than showing them suffering for themselves-then, allowing their psyche to come to that conclusion.

In conclusion, Frederick Douglass used the best tool at his disposal to make the point of the inhumanity of slavery abundantly clear to his audience. Indeed, he does not “vilify” the practice of slavery in itself, as much as he seeks to communicate the inhumanity of the practice in emotional terms. To be sure, Douglass was very much a man of his times, meaning that he fully understood the limitations of his power of persuasion. After all, abolitionist or not, many whites would have considered any attack upon their race as a group to be on some level very distasteful.

Douglass knew that he had to avoid that trap if his message was to be persuasive. In this, he was, and still remains today, immensely successful. Douglass tackles the issue of the broken family in his book, much like many other slave memoirs. Douglass’ has memories of his first realizations that he and his family were slaves, and he writes about his life with candor and bitterness. He writes, “Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation” (Douglass 52).

He writes about being separated from his family, enduring beatings and punishments, and of not being allowed to visit his own mother when she was ill and on her deathbed. This idea of a the broke black family is still a reoccuring theme in the African American community, to which many scholars still trace back to slavery. When Douglass writes of his first experience of freedom, “In less than a week after leaving Baltimore, I was walking amid the hurrying throng, and gazing upon the dazzling wonders of Broadway.

The dreams of my childhood and the purposes of my manhood were now fulfilled” (Douglass 336), it touched me. Douglass spent much of his early life in slavery, watching Blacks be killed for litle to nothing, beaten, lashed, raped and wronged constantly. Now, finally, he had his freedom, his manhood and pride.

Bibliography:

Douglass, Frederick, Smith, John David. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Penguin. (2003). SparkNotes Editors. (2002). SparkNote on Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Retrieved February 9, 2010, from http://www. sparknotes. com/lit/narrative/

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