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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass shows the dynamics of slavery and the ways in which the master-slave relationship can be equated with the father-son relationship. This is more than merely a convenient way of representing the slave relationship, for as Douglass shows, children grew up needing a parental figure. Douglass presents slavery very much as a perversion of normal and natural family life. Douglass had been a slave, but he had been freed. When he wrote this book, it was in part because many of those who listened to his highly polished speeches did not believe that he had been a slave, so here he gives a direct account of slave life as well as an analysis of the meaning of slavery and of the abolitionist position for why slavery should be eliminated. The book is not at all sensationalized as were many of the fictionalized narratives about slavery, yet Douglass is no less passionate about the need for slavery to end. Slavery treated one group of human beings as less valuable than others, and in doing so it disrupted family life and perverted the childhood of slave children. Douglass managed to overcome slavery, but he did not overcome its effects and was fully aware of the degree to which his life was shaped by his own slavery first and by the fact of the continuation of slavery--and the threat that he might be re-enslaved--second. He wants his readers to know how slavery debilitates not only the slave but the slave owner. He further wants the reader to understand the nature and importance of freedom in a way only a former slave can express. He also wants the reader to underhand how slave owners try to make the slave an accomplice in his own slavery.

Freedom is clearly very important to Douglass now that he has tasted it, since he has known the true imprisonment of slavery. He was imprisoned in body, but his spirit was yearning toward freedom even in his slave conditio...

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:42, May 21, 2019, from