Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Analysis
In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, this recount of his early life portrays a firsthand experience to the reader about the horrors of chattel slavery in the United States during the 17th century. Douglass through his specific diction formulates a convincing argument to help end slavery by convincing Northerners in the U.S at the time. The various experiences that Douglass went through to make him who he is today wasn't easy. Frederick Douglass breaks the shackles that hold him bound to slavery by acquiring knowledge through learning to read and write, which opens the door to life beyond slavery.
Douglass’s experience on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation begins the internal and external shackles that hinder him from acknowledging a world outside of slavery. “…he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood came dripping to the floor.”(319) This gruesome sight that Douglass revisits in his narrative is the first instance that he saw another slave undergoing punishment. This tragic event broadens the scope of how powerful the internal shackle had taken a hold of his soul into obeying his master. This same struggle of being bound by slavery is let out through songs of grief as Douglass says, “I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them.” (324) Douglass reiterates that the feeling of remembering those songs brings a wave of emotion to him. Along with these internal shackles in the plantation are the more obvious external shackles. “The slightest inattention to these was unpardonable…the severest punishment [was given], no excuse could shield them.” (326) These lines convince the reader that the shackles of punishment were severe for minor mistakes on Colonel Lloyds plantation. This causes Douglass as well as the other slaves into a state of complete obedience which gives the owner control over him. These events built up a common notion for Douglass that he is to spend the rest of his life being forced to work for slave owners.
However, Douglass acquires knowledge through his time in Baltimore which opens his eyes to see a new perspective in life. “Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C.” (338) This experience shifted Douglass’s perspective on slave owners that not all were cruel, but what he learned most importantly was a new world in learning to read. This event led to a meltdown by Mr. Auld who said, “If you teach that ni**er how to read…he would forever be unfit to be a slave.” (338) This statement and the harsh words that came from Mr. Auld’s mouth hurt Douglass but opened a new world in which education can lead to liberty. This push is seen when he started to befriend the white children that were homeless who helped him learn more English than he could himself. “This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins…gave me more valuable bread of knowledge.” (342) This portrays the extent of Douglass’s conviction to learn how to read and write he gives up the food which kept him full so that he can get closer to a free life. These little exchanges over time helped Douglass to fully master to read and write which caused him to plan an escape from slavery that forced him to a cruel farm.
Douglass ends up on Mr. Covey’s farm who is known as the “slave breaker”, here Douglass is truly tested to break the shackles that held him from freedom. “Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges as large as my little finger.” (356) This painful image that Douglass constructs in the minds of the readers perfectly shows the atrocious acts that he had to go through to be a “manageable slave” in terms of the slave owners. These external shackles added to the internal shackles on Mr. Covey’s farm because of the “snake” like abilities that Covey used to spy on the slaves. Douglass writes, “…he would sometimes crawl on his hands and knees to avoid detection.” (358) Douglass continues to prove that any chance that Mr. Covey got to catch a slave relaxing meant punishment. This type of psychological attack causes Douglass to start losing hope in trying to be a free person. Before he fully gave in, Douglass put up a fight against Mr. Covey and when Covey called for help from the other slaves no one helped him. Douglass said that moment, “rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom.” (366) This statement highlights the triumphant Fredrick Douglass over Mr. Covey who was supposed to make him into a slave that was supposed to be worked the rest of his life. Douglass’s will to fight arises from the knowledge he acquires, opening the way to his liberty, especially since the slave owners now know he isn’t going to work for them again.
Fredrick Douglass through his narrative allows the reader to perceive how much he endures to get freedom. The accumulation of knowledge throughout his years as a slave, allows Douglass to fight for a greater purpose which he knew after the reaction from Mr. Auld seeing him learn. Fredrick Douglass was able to make it through various obstacles in his life because of his dedication to enjoy a free life which he knew was possible through his knowledge. Through his dedication to learning English proficiently, he was able to break the shackles that held him from the liberty, that all humans deserve.