Narrative of life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Everybody who lives in this planet has equal right. However, back to the 17th century, the people in America, present day the United State, were divided into classes, the white and the black. Both classes were treated unequally. The black were considered as objects which the white could sell, torture, and even kill. All inhuman activities were conducted during that time and the black were always the one to suffer. Frederick Douglass, a former slave in Talbot County, Maryland, wrote a book called “Narrative of life of Frederick Douglass” in 1845. The book portrays Frederick’s melancholic life as the slave and barbarities that he and the slaves got from the brutal acts of the white people.

There are eleven chapters in the book. Each chapter describes the chronological events happening in Frederick’s life. To initiate, the book demonstrates a little bit of his family background. His mom’s name was Harriet Bailey and his father was probably his master, Mr. Anthony who never once considered him as a son. He was separated from his mother in a very young age. Therefore, when she died, he felt nothing. The bond between him and his mom was untied; he descripted the forever departure of his mother as if it was a departure of a slave whom he knew. Not only that he knew nothing about his family, but he also knew nothing about himself. His knowledge of himself was compared to a horse “Slave Known as little of their ages as horses known of theirs and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant” (Douglass 2). The slave’s life was really pitiful. They worked overtime, received inadequate food, had nothing to wear, and were punished brutally if they conducted something wrong. Their life was depended on their master. Their master could sell them, whip them to death or shot them to death without caring about the legality of punish someone in this severe condition “I have often been awaked at the dawn of the day … The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped the longest” (5) and “I speak advisedly when I say this, … he killed with a hatchet, by knocking her brain out” (21). Every people life is really valuable, but the black’s life was not worth a cent “It was common saying… it was worth a half-cent to kill a “nigger,” and a half-cent to bury them” (22).  The cruelest slaveholders shown in the book were Mr. Severe and Mr. Austin Gore. Frederick’s life kept moving on. At the age of seven, he was sent to live in Baltimore with Mr. Hugh Auld, Anthony’s son in law’s brother. He loved his life there. Mrs. Hugh had never once had a slave; hence, after she had Frederick as a slave, she treated him as if he was a normal person. She even taught him how to read. However, those enjoyable movements were faded away when Mr. Hugh told his wife not to teach Frederick because he said once slaves become educated, they would become unmanageable, “If you give a nigger an inch… it would make him discontented and unhappy” (29). However, Frederick’s passion of being educated was not worn off, he received help from the local boys and learned how to read and write successfully. After knew how to read and write, he started to loath slavery and think of how to abolish it. Things started to change again after the death of Mr. Anthony. Frederick was then sent to live with Thomas Auld, Anthony’s son-in-law. He thought that he would be able to live his life happily with Thomas, but everything was contradicted. Thomas was a mean stingy man, “Master Thomas gave us enough of neither coarse nor food” (45); he did not have the ability to become a slaveholder, “He was a slaveholder without the ability to hold slave. He found himself in capable of managing his slaves either by force, fear, or fraud” (47). After living with Thomas for nine month, Frederick was sent to live with Mr. Covey for one year. Mr. Covey was famous for being the brutal men in the region, “Mr. Covey had acquired a very high reputation for breaking young slaves, and this reputation was of immense value to him” (50). Frederick started being rebellious and disobeyed Mr. Covey. By doing so, he was punished by Mr. Covey, “Upon this he rushed at me with the fierceness … cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time after” (52). Spending time living with Mr. Covey, Frederick found out that Convey was a religious hardworking man; however, he always punished his slaves for not working hard enough. Astonishingly, this slave holder forced his women slave to have an affair with other men behind their husbands, “Poor man! such was his disposition … have been guilty of compelling his woman slave to commit the sin of adultery” (53). Due to the severe punishment that Frederick had received from Covey, his spirit of being rebellious was aggravated, and he even considered himself as an animal, “My natural elasticity was crushed … and behold a man transformed into a brute!” (55). However, it was not the end. His spirit was gaining back after seeing the sail being free. At that point, he pondered why the slave was not free and why they were trapped and being a slave for their whole life; hence, he decided to turn his animal life into a human being again, “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man” (57). Because of his determination and intrepidity, he fought with Mr. Covey for two hours. As the result, he won and Mr. Covey never touched him again. Life with Mr. Covey was ended; Frederick was then hired to work with Mr. Freeland. Mr. Freeland was a generous slaveholder, “He, like Mr. Covey, gave us enough to eat… compared with what I experienced at the hands of Mr. Edward Covey” (69). He even let his slaves did whatever they wanted during the free time. Therefore, Frederick decided to open a small school to teach slaves how to read; even though, it was against the rule, “but that I must keep a Sabbath school. I agree to do so … my loved fellow-slaves how to read” (69). After a while, he and his fellow-slaves wanted to escape but they did not have enough courage to do so. However, one day, they came up with a plan, the plan of stealing the canoe and rowing north pretending to be a fisherman. However, his plan was not succeeded because one of his fellow slaves told their master. Frederick then thought he would be severely punished, but it turned out that he was sent to live with his old master, Mr. Hugh in Baltimore again. It was a relieved for him. His life getting was getting better in Baltimore. His master was surprisingly on his side. He hired him to work as a shipyard. Since he was thoroughly responsible for his work and good at it, his master was then sent him to work with other shipbuilders for high wages. It was a turning point in his life, “My pathway became much more smooth than before; my condition was now much more comfortable” (84). Whenever he lived in better condition, Frederick always thought of being free from slavery. His passion was not disappeared; even though, he could live a better life a slave, “I have observed this in my experience of slavery,—that whenever my condition was improved,… set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom” (85). He then decided to escape again. However, Frederick did not show us how he escaped, yet we know that he successfully made an escape to New York. He; on the other hand, told us that after making an escape, he kept in touch with a woman slave named Anna and he told her to come to New York. Once they were together in New York, they got married. He thought New York was still near the South, so he decided to flee himself with his wife to Massachusetts. He worked there as his own master and then involved profoundly in the abolished movements of slavery by becoming a writer and an orator. His desire of abolish slavery was boiled, “The paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire … sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!” (100). All in all, the book shows how struggling Frederick was when he was the slave as well as his dignity and desire to free the himself and the other slaves.

After summarize the book, one can say that this book portrays how the slaveholders manage to control the slaves by making them uneducated. The whites never value the blacks and the blacks were actually like the outcaste in the society. No one ever wanted to look at or pay attention to them. They were kept to work for the white. They did not have the right to be educated; they did not even know their birthdates nor their background. Their identity was hidden. They only knew themselves as the object or the animal used by the white. The slaveholders or the white knew that if the slave were educated, they would be rebellious and fought against the whites. Not only that the book shows how easy it was to make the slave ignorant and control them, but the book sends the message that being educated is the key to free themselves as the slaves. Frederick was the only slave who was educated and he was the only one who could manage to escaped from being a slave and became a complete new person who was respected by every people who loath slavery. “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slaves” also demonstrates how brutality slaveholders were. All barbarity was shown in the book. The slaveholder tied their slave, whipped them, or shot them were not illegal. No one ever considered a slave as a human being. Their life was not worth a cent. They always sent from one slave owner to another slave owner as if they were an object. Even if the slaves were women, they still tortured them severely without any mercy. The book also illustrates how slaveholders used Christianity as the curtain to hide their sin or their brutality. Mr. Covey always prayed for his sin or sang the hymn; however, he was a really a cruel man who always tortured his slaves. The book also teaches us not to give up our passion and do what we think is right for us. As Frederick has said the book, when living with Mr. Covey, he was about to give up his desire to abolish slavery, yet when he saw the white sailing ship, he passion was gaining back. He decided to follow his passion and at the end he could do it. He could free himself and became the representatives of the slaves. Moreover, Frederick also opened a school to teach other black slave; even though, he knew it was not legal. He did it without considering the risks that he was going to face, because if his master found out, he might have got a punishment. To sum up, “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” gives us the ideas of how slavery was like during that time, how ignorant they did not know their family and their family and how the slaveholders punished the slaves. It also sends out a message to everyone not to give up their desire and keeps doing what we think is good for us and the other people; thinking about other people not just yourself.

This book is really well-written, full of detail, and easy to read. I would like to recommend it to everyone who are interested in slavery or who has little knowledge about how American slave live their life in that time. I have never thought that the punishments to the slaves are this severe. The ways that they kill the slave are as brutal as the ways that Pol Pot kills Cambodian. Something that is irony is that the book was already published and the world knows about how the black become the victim of slavery, but they still somehow discriminate the black people. Nowadays, the blacks are discriminated economically, verbally and emotionally. The black are addressed as a “nigger” which is an offensive word. Hence, I hope that people will stop discriminating the black people and start to think how much pains have the blacks suffers. It is time for us to realize that they are also human beings; they are not objects, and that is enough for the discrimination. I hope people will read this book or be more interested in slavery and sympathize with the black people. People are equal; no one is more superior than the others.

All in all, “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slaves” is an autobiography which Frederick shows how his life is like as a slave. Within this story, it portrays not only Frederick’s life, but also the other slaves’ life. The barbarities that the slaveholders conduct to the slaves are also illustrated in the book. I really like the book and I would like to recommend it to everyone. It is a beautiful book which makes us easy to read. It makes us imagine how the slaves’ life is like as if we actually live in that period of time, because the words used are really precise.


Douglass, Frederick, and William Lloyd Garrison. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,   an American Slave. Wortley, near Leeds: Printed by Joseph Barker, 1846. Print.


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