Reading Response to ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave’

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself has been broadcasted as the greatest slave tale to come from the pen of a freed black man. Douglass chronicles his life from his earliest recollections onward. Considering the manner in which Douglass learned reading and writing, or rather how he taught himself, the story is an incredible first-hand account of his experiences. However it falls short in some regards.

The narrative highlights how despite cruel injustices brought upon an individual based off race, one must find the strength within oneself to fight for justice and obtain equality. Douglass, an African- American born into slavery, shares one distinctive period, in his memoir, of his enslaved life in which he gained insight on the brutal reality of slavery. Constantly “worked in all weathers” and always whipped, the narrator simply desires the excruciating suffering to end and to acquire freedom. Instead of living freely, the fear-stricken slave “transformed into a brute” and all traces of hope vanished. Often, the narrator’s barbaric condition led him to the point where he desired death to secure true peace. Ultimately, he gains courage to stand up for himself as a human and disobeys his master’s demands for his own wellbeing, consequently altering his remaining slave years in which he was never whipped.

Douglass uses tone to convey the narrator’s fluctuating feelings throughout his stay as a field slave in an unjust and inhumane household. He no longer was able to adapt as he could before and his intellect vanished, for “the cheerful spark that lingered” around his eyes died. Continuously mourning over his condition, the narrator often considered death the only escape to slavery. Furthermore, as Douglass’ stay at Mr. Covey’s progresses, the narrator now uses a hopeful tone to acknowledge that his tolerance for the beatings has ended. For the first time, he “resolved to visit his master and request for his security,” which was considered uncanny for a slave at the time. Through a tough, painful journey the narrator humbly arrives at his master’s house, only to be disregarded and forced to return to Mr. Covey’s. After going back, Douglass soon provokes a fight with Mr. Covey, which was considered extremely abnormal. There is now a sudden shift as the narrator now uses a more optimistic and courageous tone because this fight “revived the few lapsing coals of his opportunity” and revived his manhood. Feeling quite satisfied, the narrator experienced a burst of freedom, displaying a positive change that remained with him during his final slave years.

There are many examples of physical and psychological enslavement in the Frederick Douglass’s narrative. One of the most compelling was the use of religion and Christianity. Religion and Christianity served as a means to further exploit slaves and continue the practice of slavery. On the one hand, religion is an oasis to many of the slaves and serves as an emotional refuge as they take part in religious activities, songs, and other forms of worship (Douglass Frederick, 846). On the other hand, there is a false form of Christianity depicted in the novel, one that is practiced by the slave owners. The latter is a form of Christianity that says one thing, yet in practice does another. Solely as a narrative, Douglass lacks depth in his characterization, such that they adhere to his reader. One of the five aforementioned men was expanded upon and not in more details than another line or so. Douglass continued only enough to say that the slaves “loved Mr. Cookman” due to speculation that he was favorable to African American slaves and had had a hand in the emancipation of a one Mr. Samuel Harrison’s slaves. This favorable characterization of Mr. Cookman does not however nullify Douglass’ complete passing over of the other four men. It is such indiscretions, slights of characters scattered through Douglass’ text that weaken its effectiveness as a narrative that was designed portray the interactions between people as they pertained to the life of a slave.

Fluidness between locations is arguable as to if it is a weak point or strength, either way it remains one that must be addressed. Whether he wished to stress more the turbulent life of a slave or just had a general disregard for continuity in his epic, is up in the air. Our in-class discussion further muddled Douglass’ true aim. By assessing the rate at which Douglass changes the setting for his memoir, conclusions can be drawn that both are true. With no formal education, what would Douglass know about building logical connections between locations? Nothing! This disregard however, reinforces the chaotic and swirling life slaves lived. It is not a textbook “narrative” written to follow any guideline. In the end it stands out as a neutral point. A bitter outcrop of injustice and turmoil endured by Douglass and countless others.

Viewed entirely from the persuasive stance as an indictment of slavery as an institution in America, Douglass falls short as well. It is true that a firsthand account is the best way to awaken masses to such demons an evil establishment like slavery. Douglass accomplishes his goal of telling his story. But to declare it more persuasive than another slaves account should be met with hesitation. True rhetorical persuasion and a deployment of Ethos, Pathos and Logos effectively are mollified by Douglass’ placation to white audiences. While his text still contains formidable tales of brutality and mistreatment, such instances where his personal commentary doesn’t match the horrors he describes, confuses and weakens the persuasiveness of the piece. This rather passive response follows a gut-wrenching summary of his appraisal. An affair in which he details all property, men, women, horses and other livestock being appraised for monetary as if they were one in the same.

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