Douglass’s work captures the era of abolitionism, the struggle against slavery, and black Americans’ contribution to their liberation. In Frederick Douglass, the writer and the social activist, the educator and the statesman were happily united. Beginning his life under the harshest conditions of slavery, he achieved recognition through natural talent, will, dedication, hard work, and courage. This essay will discuss how justice and morality intersect in Douglas’s story and the most crucial political issue raised in the book.
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The book is one of the best sources on the history of slavery in the United States. The value of Douglas’s autobiography is that written by a former slave; it shows slavery from the inside, which is a rare case. Although blacks were interviewed after their liberation and sometimes talked about their lives, it is hard to find a thinking and analytical author like Douglas among them. He was able to present his story to the reader and show the spiritual evolution of slaves, and their path to freedom. Another equally important theme addressed in the book is abolitionism. The general and most important one should be considered precisely the topic of inequality, its causes, and consequences.
Douglass deliberately does not report the details of his release from captivity for fear of hurting others by closing this channel to them. Abolitionists played an essential role in his fate; they met him in New York, helped him move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and supplied him with money. Due to them, Douglas became involved in social activities, began to give lectures, becoming an active participant in the abolitionist movement. The book dispels the stereotypes that still exist today about slavery in the United States. Douglas’ great merit remains the organization of the abolitionist movement, the involvement of blacks in the Civil War, and the struggle for equal rights with whites after the war. Douglass is rightly considered one of the most prominent political figures in U.S. history.
In the nineteenth century, the slave narrative genre was further developed and transformed in the United States in the school of heroic fugitives. From oral records at abolitionist gatherings of life in slavery and escape, workers began to move to the written form, seeing in the act of writing itself the culmination of the search for freedom and literacy. At the same time, slave narratives, born out of oral tradition, retained the virtues and characteristics of oral storytelling, the connection of African mythology and folklore. The slave narrative was the first African-American prose genre to display the fullest influence of the folkloric tradition.
As an educated, attentive and sensitive person, Douglas is undoubtedly aware of this and other problems caused by the existing inequality. Therefore, it was definitely clear to him how unfair the way he and others like him were treated. However, he writes about this in an objective tone and is silent about some points. Douglas, creating the story of his life in slavery, like other authors of slave narratives, strove to reproduce the facts accurately; white abolitionists aimed at this in every possible way. The tale and the associated effect of authenticity were intended to convey the actual truth of life in slavery to the audience (Douglass, “Narrative” 10). It was made to increase the number of supporters of the elimination of slavery. Douglas was especially keenly aware of the need to be highly attentive to the actual side of his slavery. It was primarily because the supporters of this phenomenon increasingly accused him of falsification: a runaway slave cannot be such an excellent orator.
An unusual tale of slaves at the time, Douglas’s Narrative displays the actual names of the owners and plantations. For skeptical readers, therefore, it is a guarantee of the accuracy of Douglas’s report of the slave’s life as the main character in Narrative, where he is portrayed as a resourceful, self-educated man who refused to submit to his masters. Strong in body, mind, and spirit, he exemplifies determination and perseverance. In later autobiographies, including My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), he shifted his focus to highlight the changing political needs of the African American community. But the short, strong Narrative of 1845, emphasizing his strength and resilience, remains a classic description of slavery in American literature.
In his work, Douglas mentions the unjust structure of the world when he writes about his childhood. He also writes about how the life of slaves like him was arranged. Thus, unlike most whites, slaves were deprived of many sources of self-identification at birth. Almost none of them knew the exact date when they were born. In addition, children were torn away from their mothers to prevent the formation of family ties and affections since infancy. The erasure of sources of identification deprives a person of the properties inherent in him as a member of society (Douglass, “Narrative” 6).
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Slave owners deliberately did not allow their slaves to learn any unnecessary information; they should have known one thing – the master’s order is the most crucial for them (Douglass, “Narrative” 13). Indeed, Douglas does not mention the law since he considers it necessary first to identify the moral component of the problem. And it is due to the stories of his childhood observations that he manages to touch upon the aspect of the injustice of what is happening.
Douglass was able to show how his longing for freedom gradually strengthened in him. It did not leave him, even when he became a field slave and when hard, exhausting work filled his life, dumbing him down and reducing him to the level of cattle. There were successes (he learned to resist the violence of his masters) and failures on the way to his cherished goal – his organized escape of slaves, whom he had taught to read and write, and to whom he had instilled the idea of freedom, failed.
The book draws heavily on the work of many famous American authors. Particularly influential are the papers of the distinguished black progressive historian and social activist William DuBois, recipient of the International Lenin Peace Award. This is quite understandable since Douglass and Du Bois have much in common in their lives and activities. The entire social and scientific activity of Du Bois can reasonably be seen as a continuation, under new conditions, of the struggle that Frederick Douglass began in the 1940s.
The presentation of the material is ruthless, made with documentary accuracy and artistic imagery, perfect command of the language, syntax, intonation, rhythm, logic, connection with the African-American folklore tradition. An irony that grows into the sarcasm of a pamphlet, open polemics with the slave-owning society and its religion, morality, law, economics, make a book F. Douglas a brilliant fictional work. Its search for truth, the desire to convince Americans of the need to eliminate slavery make it one of the best papers of the slave narrative genre, a classic of African-American autobiography.
Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Park Pub. Co, 1881.
Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Anti-slavery Office, 1845.