The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was the first of the three autobiographies that Frederick Douglass wrote himself. It’s a story about slavery and the meaning of freedom of the antebellum America. According to The Free Dictionary, Slavery is defined as the state or condition of being a slave; a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune (freedictionary. com). Frederick Douglass’s book is about a bondage he obtained since birth; a slave for life.
He was separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey, at birth and knew his father was white male. He lived on the “Great House Farm” plantation for his younger years; this is where he saw his first violent act towards a slave. Douglass went through many ups and downs. At the age of seven, he was moved to another house where he first learned reading and writing. However, He was beaten brutally so he can be “broken” into a good disciplined slave. Douglass describes many elements in his narrative; Douglass explains how slaveholders were able to sustain themselves with their actions.
Frederick describes the ways the slaves stayed where they were and did not attempt to escape. He also addresses a number of myths created by slaves and slaveholders that he wishes to prove wrong. In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass describes the ways a slaveholder sustain their actions, ways a slave was kept from escaping and proves the myths of slaves and slaveholders wrong. Slaveholders had a number of ways to justify themselves for their actions according to Douglass. One way they justify themselves for their actions was that slaves were lower than animals.
Douglass elaborates the treatment of the slaves as animals through the sleeping conditions. On Colonel Lloyd’s farm, they receive their monthly food and clothing. Along with these, they get their ‘bed’; a coarse blankets that only the men and women were able to obtain. By the end of the day, slaves were too tired to worry about not having a real bed; slaves “old and young, male and female, married or single, dropped down side by side, on one common bed, the cold damp floor, --- each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets (17). ” Another way they were treated like animals were how they were fed.
Their food was given to the kids like pigs; a large wooden tray and it was devoured without spoons but with their hands. Their food was also similar to animal food; “coarse corn meal” (16). All in all, slave holders treated slaves below humans and even worse like animals. The second way they justify themselves was by brutally beating them. Slaveholders had men to look over the plantation as overseers. The overseers were brutal; they beat all their slaves for reasons or even worse for no reason. Douglass had seen his own aunt whipped for just for being too loud from her whipping. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; (13). ” Masters and overseers whipped them because it was their duty as a master to do so; they wanted to remind the slave of his master’s power.
They were whipped for small accounts to prevent larger ones. On Colonel Lloyd, whipping by the overseers were at their finest here; “if a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here (16). In summary, they brutally beat and whipped slaves to make sure the slaves who knew were in charge. The third way they justify themselves was by using Christianity. Slaveholders found a strong protection for their ways through religion. As mentioned above, masters would beat their slaves; they defended themselves with a bible verse. When Douglass was living at Thomas Auld’s house, he saw his master, Auld, beat a lame young woman and “ he would quote this passage of Scripture—“he that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes” (53)”. They also believed they were doing what God did.
God cursed ham. Whites thought of Africans were descendants of Ham. “And if their increase will do no other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right (12). ” On the whole, to the slave holders, their slaves were just sinful beings on the earth. There were many ways a slaveholder kept their slaves from escaping from them. Terror and beating was one of the main reasons. One way they encouraged them not to leave is letting their slaves have vacations While Douglass lived with Mr. Covey, the slaves are given a vacation.
It’s accustomed that slaves receive a holiday from Christmas to New Year’s. They are allowed to visit their families on different plantations and able to work industriously for themselves. Slaveholders believe that “a slave would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them (60). ” Slaveholders also believed that if they let them have a vacation that it will look like they are kind people and care for their slaves. In all, letting them have a break was to make sure their slaves did not leave them. Another way they encouraged them not to leave is making freedom look unbearable.
As mentioned before, during holidays slaves are allowed to do as they please, but slaveholders encouraged slaved to drink rather than resting or working for themselves. Douglass explains that this is how they kept their slaves. “.. I believe them to be among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection (69). ” They let their slaves become rebellious for a while so they are manageable for the year. By making their slaves spend time drinking during their holiday, slave holders are positive that freedom seems unappealing. ---feeling, upon the whole, rather glad to go, from what our master had deceived us into a belief was freedom, back to the arms of slavery (70). ” Last way slaveholders attempted their slaves from escaping is by threatening their slaves to sell down to the south. Douglass was born in Maryland in the north; Maryland was one northern states where slavery as legal. Even though he was beaten badly and whipped, it was worse in the south, but no matter the condition any slave is in, slavery was wrong. Even though, Douglass lived in the north, he was always threatening to be sent down there.
It was easier for him to escape and become free because he was near a free state, Pennsylvania than a southern slave. “He was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Wool folk, or some slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining (16). ” Any actions or wrong doing from a slave in the north was threatened by the overseer through whipping and the south. Douglass discusses a number of myths about slaves, slaveholders, and non-slave owners; he wishes to prove them false.
One myth he proves wrong is that slaveholders believe that they are supporting Christianity. As mentioned before, the slaveholders believed that Africans are descendants of Ham. Because of this comparison, they believe they are following God’s way. They believe that because the Bible supports their ways. It says that Ham also is believed to be Black and that they are destined to slavery. “If the lineal descendants of Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved, it is certain that slavery at the south must soon become unscriptural (12). ” Douglass exposes the nature of Southern Christianity.
One way he proves it wrong is by asking why some not are as dark, as the Bible says. Douglass is referring to the mulattos; he proves that they are wrong for breaking the Laws of God in the meaning of slavery. “It was doubtless in consequence of knowledge of this fact, that one great statesman of the south predicted the downfall of slavery by the inevitable laws of populations (12). ” Another myth Douglass tackles is that slaveholders believed that without slavery, America’s economy would suffer. Douglass proves this wrong by exampling that he saw more wealth in the north then south.
There were many ways to get work done like by machines that are more efficient and could replace slaves. Another way they are able to get work done is with their own hands; Mr. Covey was one of the rare slaveholders who were willing to do this. “Mr. Covey was one of the few slaveholders who could and did work with his hands. He was a hardworking man. He knew by himself just what a man or a boy could do (57-58). ” Douglass proves here that slavery was never necessary because there were machines and men can work on their own. Another myth Douglass discusses is how the South was the Southern living.
Many southerners had an image of a great wealthy place. However Douglass points out that it was far from being that. It was far being rich, fancy and big. The conditions of the plantations were mean and harsh. Many lived in worse ways; the images were very unrealistic and opposite of what was imagined. Another myth about the south was that the slaves were happy. They were the saddest slave. The slaves were never happy being what they were. Douglass gets rid of this image by saying slaves did not sing because they were happy, but because they were sadly miserable. I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. They breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish (19). ” In all, south was far what the images of fancy and big, yet depressing and unrealistic. All in all, Frederick Douglass’s book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was a story of slavery and freedom. He was fortunate that he was able to experience a better slave life than others.
He was able to obtain knowledge about reading that he was not obtaining to be a slave for all his life. He, unlike other slaves, knew he was not supposed to be a slave for the rest of his life. He described the ways by which slaveholders justify themselves for their actions. He was one of the rare ones who did not lose their way to freedom; he discussed the many ways that slaves were kept from thinking about escaping and freedom. Once he was free, he wrote this Narrative and refutes many myths that many have said about slaves and slaveholders.