The history of slavery cannot and should not be forgotten, because it represents one of the chapters of human history, when humanity was not humane at all. The “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” depicts an autobiography of an American slave, Frederick Douglass, who has risen from the pits of slavery to the echelon of free men. The first few chapters narrate the harrowing experiences of slaves, under the hands of their white masters and mistresses.
This paper focuses on chapter 1 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. ” The main argument of chapter 1 is that slavery dehumanizes slaves, by not allowing them to nurture human bonds or have memories of important aspects of their lives that remind them of their humanness, and slavery also dehumanizes slaveholders, because it allows masters to perform the most inhumane acts to their slaves. Slavery dehumanizes slaves, by not allowing them to nurture human bonds.
Douglass recounts the practice of slaveholders of separating infant slaves from their mothers. He reckons that this may be due to the belief of slave masters in the importance of erasing maternal relations, which can impact the work and loyalty of the slaves to their masters. Douglass says that the primary goal of the separation between mothers and their young children is to prevent “the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child” (Douglass, ch. 1).
This practice seems to have been successful, because when Frederick’s mother died, he did not feel anything for her: “I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger. ” Having lack of emotion at this critical point in his life portrays how slavery dehumanizes slaves by eradicating human emotions that would have otherwise been developed in normal life circumstances. Furthermore, slaves are not supposed to develop positive social relationships, and so families and lovers are commonly torn apart.
Douglass remembers Aunt Hester, whom her master has been discovered with another black slave, and so his aunt was incessantly whipped, and he also knows slave families that are also broken, by separating parents from their children and siblings from their siblings. Slavery also dehumanizes slaves by not allowing them to have memories of important aspects of their lives that remind them of their humanness. Douglass does not remember his birthday, which the text indicates as a way of stressing how slaves are less human, because they cannot remember the date that they have been born humans.
Douglass also asserts the inhumanity of not knowing his birthday, by saying: “… the larger part of the slaves knows as little of their ages as horses know of theirs. ” By saying this, Douglass creates the relationship between slaves and animal treatment, an indication of how slaves were treated as animals. In addition, Douglass also does not even know who his father is. Not knowing one’s real parents also affects one’s idea of humanity, because it is equal to not being aware of one’s origins, which can negatively influence the formation of human identity.
Slavery also dehumanizes masters by making them emotionally distant enough to do the most inhumane acts to their slaves. Douglass remembers the atrocious whippings of her aunt: “The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. ” Masters have become hungry for blood. Because of this lust for blood, even the masters have disengaged from being humans, because they have lost their compassion for their fellow human beings. Their violent natures turned them into animals too. Slavery represents the process of turning people into animals.
Slaves and masters are both converted into animals, because slavery removed critical aspects of their humanness. Slavery took away social relations and human memories from slaves and ignited bloodlust among slave masters. The outcomes of slavery, as well as its processes, are all inhumane, and so inhumanity was developed. Thus, slavery reverses the gift of humanity to humans and it has provided a way of enslaving the essence of humanity. Work cited Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Web. 17 July 2010 <http://sunsite. berkeley. edu/Literature/Douglass/Autobiography/01. html>.
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