The Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick

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The Narrative of the Life of Frederick


Frederick Douglass is one of the renowned American writers. His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, received accolades throughout North America and beyond. Published in 1845, seven years before Frederick Douglass liberated himself from slavery, the book was an instant success. The narrative begins with the sketchy information that the author can recollect from his birth in Tuckahoe, Maryland. However, Douglass (1) admits that he is not cognizant of either the whereabouts of his father, or his age. He was alienated from his family before he could actually recognize them as his family. Such early separation from family was pertinent to the slaveholders since their major aim was to keep their slaves ignorant (Douglass 1). As a child, working in Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, he is made to endure harrowing sights of whippings of other slaves regardless of gender or age, but adds that his story is not different from that of the others (26). From age seven through to age fifteen, Frederick Douglass moves from one location to the other under different slaveholders but ends back at Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, but under a different master, Hugh’s brother. The author fails, however, to provide sufficient details appertaining to his eventual escape for fear that it might help the slaveholders plan effective means of thwarting escape plans of other slaves. Following his escape, Douglas ends the narrative when he has resettled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, married and changed his name (117). While the theme of slavery and the quest for freedom dominates the narrative, education and religion also stand out. Nonetheless, the following discussion will examine Frederick Douglass’ position on education. In this respect, he insinuates that ignorance is an instrument of slavery, and knowledge is the sole way to freedom. (For the next work find me on this document, click on ‘file’ up there, see ‘author’, and message me directly, I will give you a discount. Remove this part before you hand in your paper.)  

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Ignorance as a slavery tool

In chapter VI, Hugh Auld reprimands Sophia Auld and deters her from continuing Douglass’s lessons on grounds that education ruins the slavery status of a slave. Douglass then recounts that whilst he regrets losing the assistance of his mistress, he remains grateful and glad for the invaluable lessons she taught albeit by accident (Brewton 703). It suffices to say that this moment marks a turning point in the life of Douglass in two ways. On one hand, he uncovered one way through which Whites holds blacks as slave- by keeping the ignorant. On the other hand, the realization lays ground for his escape plan. After hearing Hugh Auld’s position, he notes that one major way through which the Whites maintain their dominance over their Black slaves is by depriving them of literacy and education. Besides, Douglass comes to a conclusion that his social status is not a normal societal arrangement, but rather a human construct replete with dehumanization and deprivation. As such, it can be brought to an end. Retrospectively, albeit not overtly, the change of mentality positions Douglass to begin a race towards his freedom. It creates in him a deep-seated quest to explore the other side of the belief that slavery is a normal societal phenomenon. This comes from a revelation that he is not as inferior as he is meant to believe, but a victim of human-imposed circumstances. In the same vein, Hugh’s words indirectly sends a message that Douglass has to be educated in order to escape from slavery. To some extent, these words have educated Douglass more than even the lessons.

At the time Douglass was compiling the narrative, it was a widespread belief that slavery is a natural state of the society, probably because of the reigning ignorance. According to Myers (210), it was believed that blacks were least capable of contributing to the civil society, thus, are suitable as workers for their White counterparts. Thus, Douglass strives to develop this point throughout his narrative right from his birth. A probable reason, though not directly implied, as to why the Black children were taken from their families during the early stages of development is so that they may not become cognizant of their roots and remain loyal to their masters as the only people they have seen during the most fundamental stage of their lives- the early development stage. It robs them of their individual sense of identity. If slaves remain illiterate without the ability to communicate, they cannot tell their story and the rest of the world remains ignorant of their suffering. In this manner, slaveholders seamlessly keep and manipulate the slaves without fear of external reprimand.

Knowledge as the path to freedom

This message represents an opposite of the previous message. In particular, the fact that ignorance is a tool for slavery conversely implies that knowledge that stems from education is the path to freedom and self-actualization. However, for Frederick Douglass, this conclusion comes much later in his life. At first, he asserts that “A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation” (Douglass 38). Unlike s plantation slave, urban slaves enjoy several other privileges completely strange to those of their counterparts in the plantation. Albeit fallacious, Douglass insinuates that the sense of decency obscures the inhuman treatment that the city slaves undergo. This position implies that the author initially holds the view that the path to freedom is moving from the plantation to an urban area despite the fact that the slavery tag remains intact. However, he later comes to realization that the change of location does not necessarily remove injustice inherent in slavery. It is after this realization that he resolves that knowledge is his only key to liberty. Whilst he embarks on intense self-education, he does this amidst a thick cloud of doubt concerning the validity of his resolution. “I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing” (47). He further regrets that his discovery of education had opened his eyes to reality but failed to provide him the requisite means of attaining freedom. In digression, this illustrates the bitter roots of education often encountered in the journey to freedom. It is regrettable, though, that Douglass expected no hurdles in his quest for emancipation as is normal of the journey. Eventually, these two elements-being urban and educated- plays a pivotal role in his rebellion. He fights with his master. His newfound knowledge cannot co-habit with inequality and other societal justices around him. Whilst the battle with Mr. Covey may seem as one of the normal elements of the fight for freedom, it actually marked a major turning point in his life. Myers (217) asserts that the fight recharged his quest for freedom following the momentary uncertainty, and induced in him the commitment to liberate himself.

In as much as Hugh Auld’s words played a part in rekindling these embers of freedom, Douglass’s self-education takes center stage. The narrative actually fronts Douglass’s self-education as the chief means through which he freed himself from thyme slavery. From another standpoint, while it is clear that knowledge, on the overall, is the route to freedom, it remains unclear the message the author was trying to put across from his perspectives on knowledge obtained through one’s own efforts and knowledge from an external source. Arguably, however, knowledge obtained by one’s own means could be regarded superior in the sense that it is devoid of such limitations as inadequate information that would be provided by another party when then are determined to keep some secrets from the learners. Regardless of the type or mode of education, both contribute to emancipation and expedite a person’s race to freedom.


Indeed, Frederick sends two crucial messages, which are opposites of each other, in this narrative: ignorance is the instrument of slavery and education is the path to freedom. Both his self-education and the knowledge he gains from the unwitting insinuation of Hugh Auld ignites his passion to charge for freedom. Even so, this path is never devoid of challenges which should be viewed positively, and not as a distraction or burden. The challenges are a normal feature of any quest for success. Education or knowledge is a cornerstone of that success, in this case, liberty or freedom.

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Essays Stock (2024). The Narrative of the Life of Frederick. Essays Stock.

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