Summary of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass tells his life story. He depicts how slave owners reduced humans to slaves and describe how he himself reasserted his humanity. During the 17th and 18th century slavery was a system in which principles of poverty law were applied to people allowing individuals to own, buy, and sell other people as a form of property. It is also a system in which slaves are unable to withdraw that being they have no other option than being enslaved.

Slaves were deprived of their own rights. Considering those that even free people were able to obtain. In Frederick Douglass’ narrative, he explains how white slave owners would perpetuate slaves, and keep them incapable of basic freedom. At the time, slavery was considered okay disregarding the harsh treatments they encountered. In addition, blacks were just expected to be workers for whites, as they were unallowed to do otherwise.

Douglass was one of many who was deprived of his basic freedom however, he had one thing that not many slaves had and that was his education.

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Slaves were unallowed of their own individual identity. They couldn’t read or write. They weren’t aware of their date of birth nor their paternity as knowledge would lead slaves to pursue freedom. Slave owners feared that if they were literate, they’d speak on the horrors they put these people through. That god forbid others knew about what was occurring, their practices would be greatly questioned and the world would be able to see what goes on and they’d lose their power of not only controlling what others would know, but what others could eventually learn and actually do something to stop them.

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Therefore, Douglass breaks the pattern exposing the knowledge he has on these events. Frederick Douglass was born very similar to other slaves however somehow different. When he was born and separated from his mother, he served in a household instead of plantations, so his conditions weren’t as bad. In the narrative he says “Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender, and watchful care, I received the tidings of my mother’s death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger”. To me this quote depicts the unnaturalness of slavery. He was able to be separated from his biological parent and have no feelings toward it. Slavery was able to destroy the bond he could’ve had as well as that network that a parent and their child should feel. Moreover, especially that his duty was served in the city, where slave owners were much more cautious of their reputation and how others saw the way they treated their slaves. With tjat being said Douglass’ father was a white slaveowner.

At the age of 7 douglass was given to his father’s brother and served in that household. The wife of his slave owner had never owned slaves therefore was not aware of how to treat them. At first, she is very kind, kinder that she should ever be. She taught him how to read till she was ordered to stop. Its known to frederick that she was a good woman who had to follow her husband’s orders. For example “Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. (7.2)” Therefore, its saddening that deep down she is someone who wants to be warm, someone who wants to be nice yet doesn’t have the power to.

Learning little by little on his own and by local boys, Frederick is self-taught in reading and writing and slowly starts to see the cruel truth of slavery. He says slaves would go to the Great House Farm and there they would receive their monthly allowance of food and supply. That on their way, they’d be disturbingly enthusiastic and sing songs. Songs that were evident testimony toward slavery and songs that people should hear. In the narrative it states “Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because “there is no flesh in his obdurate heart.” With that being said, frederick says that if you hear them singing these songs and he even states they appear to be enthusiastic however its the complete opposite. If you listen to the songs you hear the deep meaning to them and what they’re actually describing. Their songs didn’t express happiness, it infact expressed their subconscious emotional level of deep unhappiness. Over time, Douglass is alternating between slaveowners and sooner or later he receives the worst of the worst. After his original slaveowner dies, hes passed onto one who works much differently.

After a while, he loses his spirit since it was beaten off of him. Instead of being enthusiastic to read and write, Douglass simply becomes concerned on healing from his excruciating injuries. In his Narrative he calls his slave owner “Mr Severe” as he profanely swore all the time, beat not only slaves but even woman> Douglass explains how he’s seen him “whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release” and as he does this, he’s filled with more pleasure than pity. Douglass becomes disgusted of what this man is capable of and what he’d actually do.

With that being said the explicit language in the example is able to express what not only this woman but what all slaves who crossed “Mr. Severe’s” path, went through. He was able to beat, whip, slash, and nearly kill these people which is very much dehumanizing as these people did not deserve what they went through. Bur overall, Douglass’ main goal was to not only expose the horrors alone, but he tries his best to think intellectually and find a way to expose slave owners in a way of which they’re embarrassed of what they do. So, when he escapes to New York and becomes deeply invested within the abolitionist movement. If he weren’t to move to another state his life would’ve been by someone else and people like us wouldn’t be able to hear his ideas in any way possible.

At the time of his narrative, his intended audience was probably white people, mainly the Northerners. Being that he wanted them to view their actions as something terrible and his goal was to abolish slavery. In addition, he wanted to express not only what slavery did to slaves but how is was able to degrade slave owners as well. Similar to what i stated before, the wife of his second master wasn’t the person she was till her husband degraded her as a person for being kind to slaves. I think people may have been reading his work to be informed of the terrible conditions and do something to change the terrible conditions. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were two greatly known white abolitionists who had a lot of credibilities.

At the time of the abolitionist movement, the two of them went out their way to make sure Frederick Douglass was heard and as well as taken seriously among the people of the North, and eventually, he was. By 1843, Douglass had become part of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s “Hundred Conventions” project, a six-month tour through the United States. Douglass was physically assaulted several times during the tour by those opposed to the abolitionist movement. After breaking his hand he never regained full use. In his words, “Slavery is the enemy of both the slave and the slaveholder”. Even after his injury, he continued to speak and work tirelessly for the end of slavery and the right of black Americans to vote. Siding hand and hand with Lincoln, he believed he was able to do more with his power while alive. Though after he passed, reform was made with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment and Douglass, later on, spoke at his memorial and remained an active speaker, writer, and activist until his death in 1895.

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Summary of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. (2020, Sep 15). Retrieved from

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