Literature is a powerful tool especially when used to influence social discourse. Today, African Americans are free, and literature played a significant role in liberating them from the chains of slavery. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is a good example of such literary works. It is both a memoir and a treatise that chronicles the life and experiences of Frederick Douglas, a former slave who became a prominent abolitionist. He was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, in 1818 to an enslaved mother and unknown father. As a slave, he harbored an untamed ambition to become a free man, and this inspired him to record situations, events, and experiences he went through in his life. The book, which was published in 1845 in Lynn, Massachusetts, has eleven chapters that have energizing information, especially to the abolitionists.
As highlighted above, the memoir has 11 chapters in which Douglas recounts his life as a slave and the dream to be a free man. He begins his story with information about his birth. He cites that he has no solid facts about his date of birth. Besides, he has no information about who his dad was (Douglass 1). It is only through rumors that he imagined his father was his master. Nonetheless, such information was censored from him since he was a slave (Douglass 2). Though he knew his mother, they had only met a few times since their separation when he was in his tender age. He seems to accept his lack of knowledge by citing that it was the dream of the masters to have their slaves remain ignorant (Douglass 1). While working in Colonel Edward Lloyd’s plantations, Douglas observes slaves being brutally punished regardless of their gender or age. He outlines that his childhood experiences, which are characterized by the lack of basic amenities such as food and place to sleep, are not unique (Douglass 26). They are representative of what common slave children went through (Douglass 27).
After attaining seven years of age, Douglas is sold to another master called Hugh Auld in Baltimore. He finds this as a step towards being a free man. In the city, slaves are freer than in the plantation farms in the countryside (Douglass 34). His sense of freedom grows after Auld’s wife decide to teach him some basics of education (Douglass 33). This is, however, short-lived as Auld disapproves the idea. Douglas does not give up. In fact, he is inspired and in seven years, self-determination makes him know how to read and write.
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After spending seven years, Auld sends him to his former master, Lloyd. Precisely, Auld sends Douglass to work at his brother’s (Thomas Auld) plantation under the custody of Lloyd. He feels his desire to be free is at risk and he starts acting defiantly (Douglass 56). Thomas Auld learns about Douglass’s rebellion, and he decided to hire him out to Edward Covey, a renowned master who makes defiant slaves change their anti-slavery attitudes (Douglass 57). He physically fights Covey for over a year until he outwits him. Covey is compelled to hire Douglass out to another slave master, William Freeland. He reveals that his endurance as Covey’s slave strengthened his resolve to be a free man (Douglass 65-66). Although there is scanty information about his escape in this memoir, Douglass says that he manages to plan his flight after Hugh Auld permits him to work in a shipyard unmanned. When he reaches the north, Douglass cites that it was the most thrilling moment in his life (Douglass 107). At last, he was a free man. At the end of the narrative, he reveals that he has settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts (Douglass 117). Besides, he has a new name, a wife, new friends, and importantly, he has become a leading abolitionist.
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is not only an inspirational slave narrative but also an eye-opening treatise. As a former slave turned abolitionist, it is clear that what Douglass shared in the memoir is an indirect message to the slaves and their sympathizers to resist enslavement. In today’s perspective, this memoir is meant for African American audiences who still feel enslaved by the white majority. Douglass writes “[M]y own treatment…was very similar to that of the other slave children” (Douglass 26). This is an indirect appeal to fellow African Americans reading the book. By recounting his tribulations as a slave, it is apparent that Douglass intends to seek sympathy from adherents who will likely lose the fear of confronting injustices.
Though it appears impartial, the treatise has potential biases. In the entire narrative, Douglass recounts brutalities and inhuman treatment by his masters. There is no point where we are introduced to some white abolitionists fighting to have slavery abolished. The picture Douglass wants to create is that all the whites were brutal and heartless slave masters or sympathizers. This is untrue. After the publication of the memoir, several white abolitionists endorsed it. This is sufficient proof that the memoir is to some extent biased. It is manifest that Douglass failed to substantiate that not all whites were in support of slavery, and he ought to have done so. The goal of the memoir was to inspire slaves and abolitionists to form rebellion movements. The objective was achieved, especially in light of the anti-slavery movements formed in the course of the 19th century. Although it is concealed information, the memoir is a demonstration of how the authority at that time was relaxed and biased. If not so, impunity against black people could not have been there. The narration of Douglass’s life as a slave, and finally, as a free man is a demonstration of change over time.
Today, Douglass’s treatise serves as a historical reference that reminds people of the dark past of African Americans. It is a literary work that continues to inspire many human rights activists, more so, those involved in anti-racial campaigns. About the broader trends in American history, the memoir tells us that the racial hatred against black people has its roots in the slavery era. It is during this time that the idea of black people being inferior was instilled in the minds of the whites.
Altogether, the autobiography is a careful compilation of an individual’s life experiences that carry with them critical lessons. One of the takeaways is that slavery was an avenue through which the white masters could brutalize black people. Moreover, it is only a persistent rebellion that could save the enslaved people from bondage. Lastly, being free from slavery did not liberate African Americans from prejudice, and this explains why racial profiling is widespread in the USA.
Works Cited Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. 1845.