The Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass became a central figure in Abolitionist movement and made a great contribution to the abolishment of slavery. Born as a  slave,  he faced all the humiliation and discrimination, typical for that time.  He found enough inner strength to overcome his position of a slave. He did not stop after that and became one of the leaders of anti-slavery movement. His experience became valuable for the community, since he got the experience of living in slavery and also found the way to get out of it.

Frederick Douglass was born as a slave and spent his first twenty years of life in slavery. He learnt to read and got the chance to meet free African-Americans and these gave him a push to look for the way to become free. Douglass had to give all his wages to his master, Hugh Auld. Only from time to time Auld gave Douglass back small amount of money. This did not help the situation and Douglass still felt that such distribution of his money was unfair. Finally, he persuaded Auld to give him the opportunity to find work for himself. Auld agreed and Douglass was obliged to pay three dollars each week for food, shelter and clothes.  Such agreement gave Douglass partial feeling of freedom. Douglass worked like that for four months, but when he delayed his payment once,  his master became mad and deprived Douglass of his right to hire himself. Douglass protested such a decision, but could not help the situation. After this event, Douglass made his final decision to escape. It took him several months to make all necessary arrangements and finally he escaped to New York.

Douglass came to realization about the evil nature of slavery practices in at the young age. He recalls that at the age of eleven he heard a conversation between Hugh and Sophia Auld. They discussed slavery and different means, which helped masters keep controls over their slaves. During this conversation Douglass heard that slaver-owners consciously kept their slaver unliteral in order to make them more obedient and maintain power over them. This dialogue made deep impression on Douglass. Despite his young age, he came to hard realization that one category of people exploited another category. He also realized they used different tools to control slaves. Thinking over information he heard, Douglas took a conscious decision to get education and escape slavery. It took him much effort to fulfill this plan, but that dialogue he heard at the age of eleven made him to step on that path.

Taking part in antislavery convention in Nantucket became another turning point in Douglass’s life. In August 1841 he was invited to take part in the convention in order to speak about his experience as a slave. He was greatly nervous to speak in public, but finally pronounced a convincing and emotional speech. During his speech Douglass  condemned hypocrisy of people, who spoke about Christian values but, at the same time, possessed slaves who they keep in inhuman conditions and deprive of basic rights. This speech became the beginning of his social and abolitionist activity, which helped a lot of people to realize that slavery was inhuman practice. Taking part in the convention became important because it turned Douglass from a slave, who has escaped from slavery, into a fighter for rights of other slaves. This public speech made Douglass came into another level of realization of his role and responsibility in anti-slavery movement. He had negative experience of his own and this experience made him willing to ruin the institution of slavery. Douglass had his own experience, which turned him into a free man. He knew how education and inner freedom helped him to gain physical freedom. He also knew negative and ruining effects of slavery and had information to share with other people.

Slavery is a shameful practice, which rudely violates human rights. Slavery deprives of dignity not only slaves, but also those, who believe that it is possible to own a person and make decisions about his life and freedom. As Douglass describes his experience of being a slave: “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!” (Douglass 70).  These words illustrate how human dignity is constantly destroyed by inhuman attitude and shameful position of  a slave. At the same time people, who turn to this shameful practice, also lose human dignity. Slavery ruins basic characteristics of personality. Douglass in his autobiography speaks not only about escaping from slavery. He also describes how free people are turned into slaves and these descriptions shows how inhuman these practices change and transform personalities of salve-owners. The character of Sophia Auld becomes a vivid illustration of this thesis. In the beginning of narration Douglass describes her as a kind and gentle woman, who treats everybody with love and care. As the narration progresses,  she gradually turns into cruel and rude person. This transformation becomes a vivid illustration of impact of slavery practice on people. This practice has a negative impact on both- slaves and their owners. “Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness” (Douglass 39).  Even kind and loving characters are corrupted by the practice of slavery. Taking control over lives of other people changes outlook and attitudes to other people, and Sophia’s character becomes an example of such negative transformation. The very nature of slavery has negative impact on those, who become involved into this inhuman practice. Douglass vividly illustrates the fact that it is impossible to own a slave and to be a kind and loving person.

Douglass used all his rhetoric skills to prove that slavery is immoral, unnatural and unjust. Douglass made his best to illustrate all the evil of slavery.  In his narration Douglass had to answer different kinds of arguments, which justified slavery. Some apologists for slavery believed blacks did not possess same characteristics as whites. They did not treat them like normal human beings. Douglass had to persuade them, as well as the rest of the people, that blacks had same characteristics, as whites.  Slavery supporters stated blacks were not fully rational beings. They proved they were subhumans, who  did not possess normal mental and rational abilities. Douglass proved blacks were normal and rational human beings and differed from whites only with the colors of their skins. These arguments helped to ruin basic argument of slavery apologists, who based their idea on the assumptions that blacks were not fully humans and thus there was nothing wrong in holding them as slaves.

Along with ruining the myth about inferiority of blacks, Douglass ruins the myth about privileges slaves have from their position. Idea of giving support and care to needy African  population was popular during that time, and was used as an excuse to justify slavery. Douglass breaks this myth and uses all his literary and rhetoric skills to illustrate grief, frustration and other negative emotions slaves experienced day after day. As he writes, “I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery” (Douglrass 11). Multiple descriptions, given by Douglass, illustrate that slaves were unhappy and suffered because of constant physical and emotional pain.

Douglass also describes mechanisms, which are used by slave-owners in order to keep control over slaves. Illiteracy, fear and humiliation are the most common instruments of slave-owners. They make their best to keep their slaves uneducated in order to hide truth from them. All people are born free and possess inborn right for freedom. At the present moment their right is guaranteed by the Constitution, but it took several centuries of fight to establish this right for all citizens. It is important to remember atrocities and inhuman attitudes, which became possible because of the existence of the institution of slavery, in order to escape such situations in the future. Human rights and human dignity are basic values and basic measurement of civilized development. It is impossible to speak about technological progress and economic growth till basic human rights and freedoms are not protected.  Douglass argues that bondages, which slaves have on their bodies represent bondages they have on their hearts and minds. No persona can feel free, when his physical freedom is limited and when he cannot control even his own body. Douglass wrote his book when slavery was considered natural by many people. He made a great effort to give all possible proofs of the unnaturalness of this practice. in his book, he describes how he was separated from his mother in the very young age. He explains all his pain and despair he went through after the separation. His narration proves that nobody is born a slave. All people are born with natural inclination to freedom. To ruin this natural inclination, slave-owners use different tools, which gradually ruin human personality. It is impossible to make a person a slave, until his natural instincts and desires are ruined. At the same time those, who use different tools to ruin human dignity and human personality, also lose their human features. “Irresponsible power”- the term used by Douglass to describe the type of power slave-owners possessed over their slaves. This term describes uncontrolled endless power, which corrupts and destroys human features of slave-owners. Slavery and humanism are not compatible by any means and Douglass makes everything possible to bring his ideas to his readers. Slavery wakes the ugliest features in slave-owners. Their actions and behavior can be compared to the behavior of animals, who use any chance to demonstrate their power and get control over resources. At the same time, this behavior is even worse than that of animals, because animals never turn to extreme cruelty. They are driven by their instincts and, in contrast to humans, never get pleasure from making pain to other living creatures.

Works Cited

Douglass,  Frederick, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Harvard University Press, 2009

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 1, 2020]

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