In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass exposes the brutal, inhumane treatment of slaves that he himself was forced to endure and witness firsthand by recounting his experiences as a slave as well as his quest to find freedom. He takes the reader on a journey in the life of a slave and recounts the brutality of all of his masters. As well as recounting the effects of the institution of slavery on his life, he reflects on the importance of education in his ability to achieve freedom. In the end, he concludes by documenting the circumstances of his victory and triumph over not only the masters from whom has fled but from the institution of slavery as a whole. By thoroughly detailing his life as a slave from start to finish, Douglass helps to paint a complete picture of the terrible treatment of slaves, as well as the difficult lives they were forced to live, from the perspective of one who has had to endure these trials.
In his narrative, Douglass roughly outlines the various masters he has served under and the treatment he receives at each household. He focuses on the growth he encounters over the course of his enslavement at these various households, as well as the way his thinking and outlook on life changes depending on his surroundings. He effectively draws for the reader a path that describes the change of his view on slavery from that of a naive, uneducated, and enslaved child to that of a well-informed, educated and free adult. He begins with his childhood, and describes in detail his first true encounter with the evil of slavery. He describes how he "hid [himself] in a closet, and dared not venture out" in order to show the terror and fear that Master Lloyd's graphic beating of Aunt Hester had struck into his heart (Douglass 8). This fear slowly progresses into an awareness of the injustices being done to him. Through the gift of education, he begins to realize that he is being taken advantage of and being treated unfairly. However, the double-edged sword of education begins to "torment and sting" his soul, and Douglass often finds himself "regretting my own existence" (37). This is crucial to the reader's understanding of the growth of Douglass's way of thinking, as the awareness of the injustices being done to him at first does not prompt him to feel hopeful for a means of escape; rather, it does the opposite, making him feel as though his existence is worthless. However, a run-in with two Irish sailors introduces to him the idea of escape, and although this hope is followed by a time of despair, when Douglass must face an especially cruel slave master, Douglass's victory over his despair "rekindled the few expiring embers of [his] freedom" (60). This hope eventually helps Douglass escape to the North and to freedom.
Through the narrative of his life, Frederick Douglass helps the reader gain a profound understanding of the life of a slave. Although, like all historical first-person accounts, it only provides insight for one side of the story, it helps the reader gain an appreciation for the trials of a slave on a more personal and more intimate level. While most readers already educated in the matter of slavery know about the evils the institution imposed upon the enslaved, few know the personal stories each slave had. Through this autobiography, a reader can begin to piece together the puzzle of slave life in the nineteenth century. While the narrative does have attached to it the disclaimer that not all slaves had the same story, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass helps the reader to begin to understand the way the institution of slavery affected slaves on a personal level. In conjunction with the pure quantitative historical facts and figures of the time period, Douglass' account helps paint a complete picture of the evils of the institution of slavery, as well as its effects on the lives of those enslaved by it.
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A Book Review of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an 1845 Memoir and Treatise on Abolition. (2023, May 03). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-book-review-of-the-narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass-an-1845-memoir-and-treatise-on-abolition/
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