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Oppression and Freedom of Frederick Douglass

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 6 (1262 words)
Categories: Death, Frederick Douglass, Freedom, Oppression, Right To Education, Slavery
Downloads: 41
Views: 4

Slavery was a major issue that led to the oppression and death of millions of African Americans between the years 1619 and 1865. Oppression is when a certain group of people believes themselves to be superior to another, so they use a series of different forms of oppression, being physical, intellectual, and psychological to take advantage of and rule over the other people. After many generations of slaves being born into slavery and the slave-owners continuously punishing them, a culture began where people began to believe that the African American slaves were truly inferior to themselves.

Fredrick Douglass was born into the adversity of slavery. The oppression had a major impact on his life as he and many others faced dehumanization. Out of all the types of oppression that Douglass experienced in his lifetime, intellectual oppression was what hurt and affected him the most. Intellectual oppression forbade Fredrick and many others from learning. Although Fredrick struggled to find himself he was able to triumph against the chains that held him down and emerged a free man.

The action of dehumanization plays a large role in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The main example of oppression throughout the book was when slave-owners denied the slaves the right to education. According to the Declaration of Independence, articles 1, 3, and 5 are the rights to equality, life, and freedom from torture and degrading treatment. These articles are in place to give each person a free and fair life to live but because the slave owners did not follow through with these given rights, it was an act of dehumanization. Slaves were often discouraged from learning for multiple reasons from their masters. The main reason slave-owners denied the slaves the right to education was over their fear that slaves would try to overrun the plantation if they became literate. This was difficult for Fredrick, who had a desire to read. In his narrative, Fredrick stated, ‘The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privileges’ (Douglass 1).

This quote refers to the act of dehumanization because the white children were able to know their ages and how to read & write, whereas the African American slaves were not allowed to know anything unless the slave-owners taught them. If the slaves understood how to read and write they would be able to realize that they were being manipulated and dehumanized by their masters. Douglass shows this through Mr. and Mrs. Auld’s actions towards him. Mr. Auld tried to keep Douglass ignorant, to keep him a slave, and not risk him escaping. Mrs. Auld became cruel to Douglass and made sure he had no way of learning after Mr. Auld got mad at Mrs. Auld for teaching Douglass how to read. Mr. Auld stated, ‘It is not safe’ (Douglass 50). This shows that masters consider giving knowledge to their slaves the same as giving them power. Knowledge gives the slaves the ability to read maps and signs and creates the threat that they could run away.

The slaves were convinced that ‘a still tongue makes a wise head, ‘ (Douglass 34) since that was what they were told to think. By slaves having no education and no opportunities to speak freely, the slave system flourished. ‘A single word from the white men was enough-against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties-to sunder forever the dearest friends. Darkest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings’ (Douglass 58). The life that Fredrick Douglass was born into was not one he would have chosen but rather one that was given to him. His life was not an easy one as he was beaten, mistreated, and abused his entire life as a slave.

However, his breaking point did not come until Hugh Auld denied him the opportunity to read. ‘If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now, if you teach that nigger how to read, there will be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave’ (Douglass 31). The constant physical and oral abuse brought on by the slaveholders, causes slaves to detach themselves from humanity. This causes them to believe that they are less than human, and should deserve nothing less. However, Fredrick Douglass refused to let that be a part of his identity. He got a drive to pull himself from the sums of slavery into freedom. Fredrick’s first attempt of learning to read was stopped immediately, ‘Just at this point in my progress, Mr.Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs.Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read’ (Douglass 48).

Moments like these devastated Fredrick because he was on the road to knowledge but it was cut short by his master. Despite his master’s wishes, Fredrick still continued to try to learn on his own, ‘Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with this newspaper’ (Douglass 52). Fredrick’s pathway to freedom was through reading and gathering knowledge that showed him the possibility of a whole new world, where blacks could be free from the whip, and chains that held them back. ‘Fredrick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom, but reading is still the path.’ – Carl Sagan

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published on May 1, 1845. He wrote this autobiography to describe his experiences as a slave and how difficult it was. His purpose was to channel the roots of slavery by depicting his personal encounters and how he overcame them in order to become a free man. Fredrick wrote this autobiography for many audiences. One of his intended audiences were abolitionists and activists who advocated for the equality of African Americans during the civil war. ‘You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.’ – Fredrick Douglass.

Another one of his intended audiences was white people, mainly in the north, as he wanted to convince them of the damaging effects of slavery and to convince them that slavery should be abolished. He also wanted to both inform the American public about the debased, malevolent nature of slavery and to humanize the slaves negatively affected by the southern institution. The examples chosen above appeal to Douglass’s audience because it exposes the malicious acts conducted by the southern institution on African Americans. It allowed Fredrick to raise awareness of what was going on during that time and to show people what slavery was really like so that they would understand why it needed to be abolished. Slavery has had an enormous impact on the formation of the United States.

The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass depicts the struggles and obstacles he faced as a slave. Douglass discusses events of his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood to demonstrate the evolution of his life. He targeted contemporary issues of racism, inequality, religion, and education. His autobiography was informational as it shone a light on the injustice of slavery. It reveals trauma, death, injustice, and abuse; however, Douglass had the courage and perseverance to escape the chains of slavery and become a free man.

Cite this essay

Oppression and Freedom of Frederick Douglass. (2020, May 03). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/oppression-and-freedom-of-frederick-douglass-essay

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