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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Page history last edited by Aurélie Wolf 1 year, 5 months ago

http://nautique123.pbworks.com/w/page/134718561/Narrative%20of%20the%20life%20of%20Frederick%20Douglass-%20Aurélie    - sorry guys technical difficulties

Lili Mohr- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Miranda Dunlap

Passages From the Text

Pg #s

Comments and Questions

“I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant.”


To me, this is a complete effort to dehumanize the slaves. To the masters, slaves were complete property and not people. Depriving someone of such basic knowledge as their birthday can make them feel like they don't truly know who are they are, and the masters wanted that, because the less they knew, the more they completely depended on their masters. (E)

“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.” 


This passage disgusts me. I cannot imagine what the slaveholder is thinking while doing this. He does not have any remorse? He does not feel bad for inflicting such pain on another human being? This treatment was a disgusting way of slaves the power white men held over them. (R)

”Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek. To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds.”


I found myself relating this passage to my own life (though on a much smaller scale). I can remember the song I listened to when I was most heartbroken, and when that song plays, it brings a negative feeling because of the things associated with it. For him, it reminds him of when he first understood how terrible slavery really was, and brings back harsh memories. (C)

”I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”


From the perspective of the people from the North, I can understand how they might think the singing was evidence of contentment. In their way of life, and mine personally, singing is often done to express joy, or when in a good mood. This might lead people who are not owning slaves to think they are happy.(C)

“When inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented and their masters are kind... The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head.”


This passage is important to the entire story. Slavery worked because slaves were trained to be fearful of their masters and not resist them. They were to obey the slaveholders and this passage shows how they trained them to behave, scared to speak negatively about their conditions. I wonder if this will affect Douglass once he actually escapes. 

“He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment's warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.”


“By a hand more unrelenting than death”. I think the word choice is interesting, is he is basically saying that these men had this power to control what happens to you? Or is he saying that being taken away and continuously being owned by the slaveholders was worse than death? Or maybe both? (E) (Q)

”No matter how innocent a slave might be -- it availed him nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of any misdemeanor. To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished; the one always following the other with immutable certainty.”


I assume, based on what Douglass is saying here, that slaveholders will get away with many terrible things throughout his story because the slaves have absolutely no voice. (P)

“Find the girl slow to move, jumped from her bed, seized an oak stick of wood by the fireplace, and with it broke the girl’s nose and breastbone, and thus ended her life... There was a warrant issued for her arrest, but it was never served.” 


This reminds me of how things still are today, with police brutality and the corrupt justice system for blacks. No matter how innocent they are, white men are still getting away with hurting them with no reason. (C)

“I looked for home elsewhere, and was confident of finding none which I should relish less than the one which I was leaving. If, however, I found in my new home hardship, hunger, whipping, and nakedness, I had the consolation that I should not have escaped any one of them by staying.”


I think that he is trying to say that he has never felt a true sense of home, and it was better to continue moving on and trying to find one and fail than stay where he feels nothing at all. (E)

”I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd's plantation as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery.”


In this passage, he is foreshadowing what happens once he leaves Lloyd’s plantation. I predict that the place he moves to leads him to freedom. (P)

”Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read.”


Frederick Douglass has now found a ray of hope to learn how to read. He is saying that from his master being mad at him learning to read, he realized it must lead to some sort of power. I predict he will learn to read nonetheless, and I believe this is what he foreshadowed in my previously analyzed passage. (CL) (P) 

”If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy." These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty--to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man.”


To me, this is manipulation. The master uses his words in a way that makes it seem like he is helping Douglass by forbidding him to learn to read, when he is really just keeping him in control. He is realizing this as he speaks. White men were terrified of black men having any knowledge that could lead them to not depend on the slaveholders. (E)

“The plan by which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read.”


Do this white children not have slaves in their household? Do they know that what they are doing is “wrong”? Or have the just not yet been corrupted, by learning the hateful ways against slaves? (Q)

“I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to a horrible pit, bt to no ladder upon their stupidity. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow slaves for their stupidity.”


This passage reminds me of a popular saying I hear nowadays: “Sometimes its better to be kept in the dark than to be blinded by the light.” In learning to read, Douglass can now know different than slavery, unlike his fellow slaves, but has no way to be free. In a way, this makes him feel more stuck. (C) (R)

“We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.”


The way he wrote this passage immediately reminded me of the Holocaust. The dehumanizing effect of this ranking is similar to the way Germans made the Jewish feel like animals, tagging them with numbers and inspecting them to choose who will do the best work at the camp. (C)

“If any one thing in my experience, more than another, served to deepen my conviction of the slaveholders, it was their base ingratitude to my poor old grandmother. She had served my old master faithfully from youth to old age. She has been the source of all his wealth...She was nevertheless left a slave- a slave for life. 


This passage makes me feel sad, and if I was Douglass, I would feel like there was no hope to ever be free. Even though his grandmother had done so many good things and was obedient for so long, she still died a slave. 

“He possessed all the disposition to deceive, but wanted the power. Having no resources within himself, he was compelled to be the copyist of many...He was a slaveholder without the ability to hold slaves.”


For me, this passage says more about slavery as a whole than just the master. While slavery may have started as a way for cheap labor, it transformed into white people purely wanting power over blacks. This master doesn’t know how to keep slaves, but he wants the power of controlling them, like all the other white men. (R)

“Master would keep this lacerated young woman tied up in this horrid situation four or five hours at a time. I have known him to tie her up early in the morning, and whip her before breakfast; leave her, go to is store, return at dinner and whip her again, cutting her in the places already made raw with his cruel lash.”


I shivered while reading this, and felt so disgusted. This sounds like the most painful experience ever. How could people treat other human beings like this, and feel good about it? (Q)

“Their object seems to be, to disgust their slaves with freedom, by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation... One plan is, to make bets on their slaves, as to who can drink the most whisky without getting drunk; and in this way they succeed in getting whole multitudes to drink to excess. Thus, when the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labeled with the name of liberty. The most of us used to drink it down, and the result was just what might be supposed; many of us were led to think that there was little to choose between liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as well be slaves to man as to rum. So, when the holidays ended, we staggered up from the filth of our wallowing, took a long breath, and marched to the field,--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.


I am disgusted by this act of manipulation. If I was a slave in this situation, having known nothing of freedom, this would lessen my efforts to escape because this would be my only account of what it's like to be free. Showing slaves a false sense of freedom so they will do their jobs better and not escape must be one reason why slavery was able to continue for so long. It's hard to see how anybody who knows of a different way of life would accept being enslaved, yet they all did, because they didn’t know different. (R)

“Every moment they spent in that school, they were liable to be taken up and given thirty- nine lashes. They came because they wished to learn. Their minds have been starved by their cruel masters. They had been shut up in mental darkness.”


This passage tells me how desperate slaves were for knowledge. They knew nothing, because their slaveholders deprived them. It also tells me a lot about Frederick Douglass, and how he only wanted his fellow slaves to succeed and have knowledge too. He did not just care about himself. He did not care about the punishment they could all receive for learning, he would rather take the risk and better all the slaves. (E)

“But the loneliness overcame me. There I was in the midst of thousands and yet a perfect stranger... I dared not to unfold to anyone for fear of speaking to the wrong one.”


This answers one of my questions from earlier on. The fear slaveholders instilled in him still affects him once free. (C)

“I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed by the north, compared to what was enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south.”


From these words, I can tell Douglass thought slavery was essential for people to live well. However, people in the north can live just as comfortable lives without slavery. If I was Douglass when I realized this, I would be mad. I would wonder why I went through so much pain if the slaveholders could get along just as well without slaves. 

“The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,--sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,--leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate.”


Frederick Douglass is saying he despises those who are hypocritical in their religion. They preach love but severely harm others. I find this to be true today. This reminds me of those who use religion to justify the taking away of women’s and other minorities’ rights. What Douglass is trying to say overall, is that Christianity and hate oppose each other. You cannot be a Christian if you practice such terrible things like slavery. 



Comments (6)

Sharon Murchie said

at 10:53 am on Aug 7, 2019

"“I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed by the north, compared to what was enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south.”" This kind of justification was internalized by slaves and strongly lauded by the South. I wonder how much truth is in this belief? What would the south have been--then and now--if slavery had not existed? The romantic idea of the South relies almost solely on the foundation of slavery.

Miranda Dunlap said

at 9:36 am on Aug 15, 2019

I have though about this before. Would racism be as prominent if slavery didn’t exist? I feel like it wouldn’t be.

Sharon Murchie said

at 11:01 am on Aug 7, 2019

Aurelie, you comment "Frederick was more determined to read when his master told his mistress that it was unsafe to teach a slave how to read and that the less they know, the more manageable they are." Reverse psychology, right? Tell someone they can't do something and they are often more determined to do it. At least for some people. I wonder what intrinsically drives those who refuse to hear "you can't" as opposed to those who constantly say "I can't"? Is it something inherent? Or something you can teach or learn?

Lili Mohr said

at 11:06 am on Aug 13, 2019

Miranda, I had the exact same question that you had on page 33 about how someone could treat another human with such cruelty and yet find satisfaction in their actions. It is just one of those difficult concepts that we cannot wrap our heads around because times are so different now.

Lili Mohr said

at 11:10 am on Aug 13, 2019

Aurélie, on page 22 you reference the change in Master Hugh's mistress and how she was kind but learned that kindness towards a slave was not allowed. How do you think she felt when she was forced to change her character and conform to Master Hugh's way of life?

Miranda Dunlap said

at 9:42 am on Aug 15, 2019

Aurelie, I thought the same thing you did while reading the passage on page 43. The idea that the worst slaveholders were the most religious ones was really interesting to me. Religion should be a peaceful thing. A lot of people, still today, justify their terrible actions and judgment by using their religion. The end of the story where Frederick discussed his view on Christianity and those who think they are good christians but are actually hypocrites was so interesting.

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