The Role of Animality in Constructing Frederick Douglass’s Identity and the Issues of Liminality in “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” by Frederick Douglass Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

During the era of slavery, the white slave owners living in the Southern states of the USA were inclined to discuss black slaves as the beings taking the transitional or liminal level of development between animals and humans.

However, in his work Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass represents the contradictory vision of the issue, supporting the idea that the white slave owners acted as animals in relation to the black people in many cases because of being ruled by the natural instincts which were not associated with the principles of humanity.

From this point, Douglass provides the discussion of evidences to state that white slave owners can be discussed as more animalized humans than black slaves with references to the point that slave owners can also combine animal instincts with hypocrisy typical only for humans.

Thus, Douglass states that slaves in relation to their identity are more human than slave owners despite the idea that the black people are animalized in their nature because of their origin and race, and that slaves take the specific liminal stage between humans and animals; moreover, Douglass refers to his own experience, human attributes, spirituality, and intellectual qualities to support the argument.

The significant role of discourses on the issues of animality and liminality is emphasized by Douglass on the first pages of his narrative because the author describes the challenges of the constant thinking over this problem. Thus, Douglass states, “I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking!

It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me” (Douglass 35). Douglass concentrates on the problem of being a slave and on the conditions associated with the slave owners’ perceptions of the blacks as animals because these conditions prevent the blacks from perceiving themselves as humans equal to the whites.

Douglass compares himself and his life conditions with the life of a beast not because of identifying himself as the inferior being, but because of opposing to the life of slaves discussed as animalized humans.

Douglass pays attention to the fact that the black slaves are perceived as brute animalized humans not because of their actions and rule of instincts. The white slave owners, who are in a lot of cases can be compared with a ‘snake’, are more animalized in their behaviors towards slaves (Douglass 53). The slave owners expect that the blacks can act as animals ruled by instincts while demonstrating violence and their brutal nature.

Although slaves can focus more on their instincts and not to use their intellectual abilities actively, they are not animalized. Being afraid of the blacks’ animal nature, the white slave owners demonstrate the absence of humanity in their actions and the use of physical violence, tortures, and the power of pain against slaves.

Douglass claims that slave owners “had much rather see us [slaves] engaged in … degrading sports, than to see us [slaves] behaving like intellectual, moral, and accountable beings” (Douglass 70).

From this point, the fear rules the white slave owners in their actions against the blacks. That is why, following Douglass’s narrative, it is possible to state that the ability of people to demonstrate brutality and the fact of being at the liminal stage does not depend on the race or status.

Referring to Douglass’s identity, it is possible to note that the author emphasizes his being at a rather high stage of the intellectual development as the argument to refuse the ideas of animality or liminality in relation to his personality. Thus, Douglass accentuates his “intellectual nature” and intentions to escape from slavery because of the “injustice of … enslavement” (Douglass 88).

This enslavement is the result of the white people’s unjust discussions of the problem of animality and the role of the blacks in the process.

Nevertheless, Douglass’s descriptions of the white slave owners’ attitudes to the blacks and his discussions of such personalities as Mr. Covey only support the controversial idea that the problem of liminality is characteristic more for the whites who lost their dignity and qualities as humans (Douglass 53).

Following the evidences and facts presented in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, the reader can state that people can degenerate because of experiencing the constant tortures, but the persons who realize these tortures are more inhumane in their nature.

If the animalized persons can be determined with references to their behaviors ruled by instincts and their violence, the concept of race is not the important factor to discuss the idea of animality.

From this perspective, brutal and impulsive white slave owners who rape and torture the blacks and who cannot control their instincts and desires can be discussed as more animalized in their nature in comparison with the black slaves because slaves have to demonstrate their violence only as the reaction to the experienced pressure.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. USA: Wilder Publications, 2008. Print.

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