Frederick Douglass Book Overview
Narrative: The Life of Frederick Douglass is a detailed history of slave life in antebellum south, disguised as an autobiography. Douglas was born into slavery, and was traded around farms as a kid. It was not until his late 20's that he escaped the south and supported the abolitionists in the free north. When he was a free man, he penned this book to give a first hand accounting of slave life in the 1800s.
Douglass' childhood was one of hardships, considering he was separated from his mother and siblings before he was old enough to know them. He worked on the farm of Colonel Lloyd, who regular whipped his slaves in harsh pleasure. Douglass however was lucky to be assigned to the Colonel's son. The son befriended him, thus Douglass rarely received beatings.
In the book, Douglass rarely talks of the hardships of other slaves, mainly focusing on his life. His experience was not as bad as most of the rest of the workers, but he does admit to his luck. Frederick Douglass got traded by his master, and was sent to work as a slave in Baltimore. It was there that he received his greatest influence of all: education. The wife of his master, Mrs. Hugh Auld, taught him the basics about reading. However, because of the immense fear of blacks becoming educated, the whites showed the fear through discrimination, and the teachings were discontinued by Mr Auld.
"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, said he 'if you teach that nigger (speaking of myseft) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave." (1)
So, Douglass taught himself to read with the help of poor white children. This reading would shape the rest of his life, since it was through reading in which he discovered the abolitionist movement and fueled his hatred of slavery. Douglass was very bright, and saw the irony of the white slaveowners. These owners would pride themselves and uphold reputations on who treated slaves better.
Douglass was a very unique slave, since he was educated and groomed from city life. This was apparent when he got traded once again and his multiple errors angered his new master, Edward Covey. Here came the turning point of Douglass' manhood. After numerous whippings in his service to Covey, and after complaining to the head master, Douglass finally stood up to the white slave owner. He fought Covey in a barn, tired of the sadistic treatment.
"This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave... and revived within me a sense of my own manhood." (2)
Douglass was traded around more, then finally made his move towards freedom in 1835. His education came in very useful, as he forged his master's signature and script for a vacation pass. Douglass' vast slave education made him stand out. The first attempt failed miserably, and Douglass ended up in jail. However, after several more slave years, he tried again and suceeded. Without his knowledge, he probably wouldn't have made it at all.
Although the book has great description, the escape is the only part which is nonspedfic. It is not his fault, as he could not divulge certain information for risk of embarrassing someone, or being caught.
I liked this book,- it gave me an understanding a slavery that I cannot get from a history book. Douglass presented the emotions of slavery, the feelings of the indivduals. It did have detail on slave life, however more on his than any others. He did live a hard life, however he was lucky compared to the thousands of other tortured workers. I would have liked to learn more about his escape, but he could not say because the book was written right after his escape.
1. Frederick Douglass, Narrative: The Life of Frederick Doui!lass. (New York: Signet, 1845) 49
2. Frederick Douglass, Narrative: The life of. Frederick Douglass. (New York: Signet, 1 845) 49