The narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass shows his experiences and views of certain realizations of the institution of slavery and his own condition during his time in its confines. In this writing he explores many conditions related to the salve life, I will start with the identity of slaves or more a lack of their identity. I think he makes some strong arguments as to the identity lose of slaves. He starts by letting us know that he has no idea how old he is because he had never saw any record of his birth.
None of the slaves knew their ages, “By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their age as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant” (Douglass 1). Slaves were kept “ignorant” as to the facts of the real world, in most cases not even knowing the year of their birth, preventing the knowledge of a captive’s true age. Douglass here identifies himself as a human being lacking what we may consider a normal childhood simply through the use of dates. We identify ourselves by the dates which surround the events of our lives.
Part of our identity is formed from dates and this was a privilege he was denied. He is, however, provided with a general idea as to how old he truly is, “I come to this from hearing my master say, sometime during 1835, I was about seventeen years old” (Douglass 1). A birthday is something with which people can identify, as they are a celebrated part of our culture, especially to youth, therefore keeping dates from the slaves in my opinion was a way to keep them in the light of ignorance. Another factor to consider in the identity crisis of slaves is the status of their parentage.
Douglass somewhat knew his mother, her name was Harriet Bailey, although it is true that he knew his mother, they were separated while he was an infant and thereafter only met a total of four or five times. He was not even permitted to be with her during her sickness, death or burial. He hardly developed enough of a bond with his mother to miss her. He never really had a father. His father, according to practically everyone, was a white man. ” The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me. (Douglass 1). The consequences of not knowing who you really are may not have phased Douglass much during his childhood. However as he grew older and began to understand how the politics of slavery work, there is no doubt that this lack of principle human right (to which everyone should be entitled) certainly motivated Douglass towards achieving his goal of freedom. A major fear amongst slave owners is that their slaves will learn to read and write. One reason is because the less they know they better off the owner would be.
The slave would then realize he was an equal to his master and question why his master has the right to enslave him. Douglas stated this saying, “The more I read the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. ” When Douglas learned to read and write, he looked at everything differently. He saw everything as a citizen and not a slave. He then began to envy the illiterate slave because they did not completely understand the terrible condition in which they lived. Douglass, however, now did, and could not bear the thought of remaining a slave.
Moving to Baltimore and thus becoming illiterate proved to be a substantial event in Douglass’ life. For if neither of the two ever happened, it is extremely probable that Douglass would have died in the trenches of slavery. When Douglass is a young boy, he witnesses for the first time a slave getting whipped. It is his Aunt Hester. Douglass hides in a closet, thinking that he would be next. This is Douglass’s first encounter with the extreme cruelty of slaveholders (3). Years later, Douglass regards the treatment of his grandmother as a great tragedy.
After years of dutiful service to her master, she is cast off to die alone. Douglass can only ask, “Will not a righteous God visit for these things? ” (29). Knowledge of such despicable acts happening to one’s family can only inspire feelings of despise, disgust and hatred. Douglass, however, used this as fuel to inspire his freedom. Frederick Douglass was always a strong man who would not be broken by anyone. In 1833 he was once sent to work for a man named Mr. Covey who had a reputation for being a “slave breaker. ” Douglass considers the first six months working for Mr.
Covey the darkest time of his life, “During the first six months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me” (Douglass 10). The remaining six however, proved to be less intense. Douglass received a severe beating from Covey one day, and while in despair turned to a friend of his, Sandy Jenkins for support. Jenkins advised Douglass. “… there was a certain root; which, if I would take some of it with me, carrying it always on my right side, would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man, to whip me” (Douglass 10). Not truly convinced, but complying anyhow, Douglass did as he was told.
Upon returning to Covey’s land, a confrontation immediately took place between Douglass the slave, and Covey the master. Surprisingly, Douglass found the confidence to stand up and defend himself, furthermore defeating Covey! “This battle was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and inspired me again with a determination to be free” (43). This fueled Frederick’s mind to free himself. This was the biggest turning point in his life. In conclusion, the above mentioned events, and all others that Douglass experienced, led to his victorious escape on September 3, 1838.
Douglass undoubtedly endured a traumatizing life. Through slavery, he was able to develop the necessary emotion and experiences for him to become a successful abolitionist writer. He grew up as a slave, experiencing all of the hardships that are included, such as whippings, scarce meals, and other harsh treatment. His thirst for freedom, and his burning hatred of slavery caused him to write Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and other similar biographies. In his Narrative, he wrote the complete story of his miserable life as a slave and his strife to obtain freedom.
The main motivational force behind his character (himself) was to make it through another day so that someday he might see freedom. The well written books that he produced were all based on his life Generally, Douglass the protagonist becomes a stronger presence as the Narrative proceeds. The protagonist Douglass exists in the Narrative as a character in process and flux, formed and reformed by such pivotal scenes as Captain Anthony’s whipping of Aunt Hester, Hugh Auld’s insistence that Douglass not be taught to read, and Douglass’s fight with Covey.
Aunt Hester’s whipping introduces Douglass to the physical and psychic cruelty of slavery. He becomes committed to literacy after Hugh Auld’s order that Sophia Auld cease teaching him. Douglass then is reintegrated into slavery and loses his desire to learn at Thomas Auld’s and at Covey’s. Finally, Douglass reestablishes a sense of self and justice through his fight with Covey. Douglass thus emerges as a figure formed negatively by slavery and cruelty, and positively by literacy education and a controlled but aggressive insistence on rights.
Through this process, certain traits remain constant in young Douglass’s character. Though often isolated and alienated, Douglass remains largely optimistic about his fate and maintains a strong spiritual sense. He is exceptionally resourceful, as demonstrated by his untraditional selfeducation. Finally, Douglass has a strong desire to help others, expressed in part through his commitment to improving the lives of his fellow slaves, as we see in the Sabbath school he runs while under the ownership of William Freeland.
It is from Hugh Auld that Douglass learns this notion that knowledge must be the way to freedom, as Auld forbids his wife to teach Douglass how to read and write because education ruins slaves. Douglass sees that Auld has unwittingly revealed the strategy by which whites manage to keep blacks as slaves and by which blacks might free themselves. Doug-lass presents his own self-education as the primary means by which he is able to free himself, and as his greatest tool to work for the freedom of all slaves