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Review of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, near
Hillsborough. He doesn't know for sure of his age, he has
seen no proof and his master will not inform him. Most
masters prefer for their slaves to stay ignorant. He
believes that he was around twenty-seven and twenty-eight
when he began writing his narrative - he overheard his
master say he was about seventeen years of age during 1835.
His mother, Harriet Bailey, was separated from him when he
was an infant and she died when he was seven years old.
Frederick's father was a white man who could have been his
master but he never found out.
Education was of utmost importance in his life. He received
his first lesson while living with Mr. and Mrs. Auld.
Sophia Auld, Frederick's "mistress", was very humane to him
and spent time teaching him the A, B, C's. After he
mastered this, she assisted him in spelling three and four
letter words. At this point in his lesson Mr. Auld
encountered what his wife was doing for Frederick and
forbid her to continue. He believed that "if you give a
nigger an inch, he will take an ell" and continuing with
"learning would spoil the best nigger in the world". The
masters felt that an ignorant slave formed a choice slave
and any beneficial learning would damage the slave and
therefore be futile to his master. His next step on the
road to success was during his seven years living with
Master Hugh's family. Frederick would make friends with as
many white boys as he possibly could on the street. His new
friends would be transformed into teachers. When he could,
Frederick carried bread on him as a means of trade to the
famished kids for knowledge. He would also carry a book
anytime he had an errand to run. The errand would be
completed quickly, allowing extra study time. When
Frederick was working in Durgin and Bailey's ship-yard he
would notice timber marked with various letters. He soon
discovered how the letters matched the type of wood and the
names of these letters. Any boy he met that could write he
would challenge them to a writing contest. Frederick would
use the letters he recently learned and told the child to
challenge that. He then copied the Italics in Webster's
Spelling Book until he knew them well. All this hard work
and years of practice gave Frederick the knowledge to
write. After his relocation to Mr. Freeland, who was the
owner of two slaves, Frederick devoted his Sundays teaching
these two and other slaves how to read. Frederick heard the
word abolitionists a few times but it wasn't for a while
until he found out what it meant. If a slave succeeded in
escaping from his Master or performing a radical action
such as burning a barn or killing his Master, it was
considered to be a form of abolition. One day while running
an errand, Frederick ran into two Irishmen hard at work.
Frederick assisted the Irishmen and soon after they asked
if he was a slave. The men then advised Frederick to run
away to the north to find friends and freedom. Ever since
this encounter he has dreamed of the day he could safely
escape. An attempt to carry out his dreams surfaced during
his stay with Master Thomas. He did not attempt to escape,
however he regrets not doing so since the chances of
succeeding are ten times greater from the city than from
the country. Anthony, one of Frederick's two masters, was
not a humane slaveholder. Frederick was awakened habitually
by the sounds of his own aunt being whipped repeatedly
because she was caught away for the evening with a man.
Slaves, when unhappy, sing songs to help drown their
sorrow. Frederick would often sing for this purpose, and
not to express his happiness as some slaves also do. The
men and women slaves received eight pounds of pork or fish
and one bushel of corn meal monthly. On a yearly basis,
they received very little along the lines of clothing. The
children unable to work in the field were given two shirts
per year. If they happen to wear out, the children would
have to go naked until the next year. No beds were
supplied, only coarse blankets. Master Thomas would not
even give a sufficient amount of food to eat, which was
usually mush (coarse boiled corn meal). This was considered
to be the most pitiful act even among slave holders. The
general rule is, no matter how coarse the food is, just
make sure there is enough of it. Mr. Severe, one of the
overseers, was a cruel and heartless man. He seemed to
treasure the time spent with his whip. Mr. Severe was
replaced by Mr. Hopkins, a very different man. He was not
as brutal as Mr. Severe; he whipped when he felt it was
necessary, but took no joy in it. The slaves considered Mr.
Hopkins a good overseer. This was rarely the case, however.
Colonel Lloyd, for example, would tar his gardening fence
to keep the slaves from eating his fruit. If his horses
didn't move fast enough or wasn't clean enough, the blame
would go to the keepers. The slave could never answer to
any complaints, just stand, listen, and tremble. One time
Colonel Lloyd passed a slave on the street that belonged to
him, but the slave did not know who he was. The slave told
the Colonel that his master did not treat him well. Three
weeks later, that slave was shipped off to Georgia, away
from his family and friends, to serve his punishment for
answering a simple question truthfully. Mr. Gore, an
overseer for Colonel Lloyd, was strict, serious, and had no
sense of humor. This man had the audacity to shoot another
man in the face simply because he would not remove himself
from a creek where he was recovering from his wounds. Mr.
Gore's response was that this slave was out of control and
if he wasn't controlled then the other slaves would see
this and copy the example. Mr. Gore's explanation was
adequate and all was forgotten. A city slave differs
greatly from a slave on the plantation. A slave from the
city receives more food and clothing. A city slaveholder
will have it known that they provide plenty of food to
their slaves. After leaving Master Thomas's house and
living with Mr. Covey, Frederick, for the first time,
discovered what it was like to be a field hand. He felt
very awkward in his new environment and came to prove it
soon enough. A week after his arrival he received a
generous number of lashings. Frederick had never maneuvered
oxen before and was required to take them out to the woods
by Mr. Covey. He wrecked the oxen, the cart, and nearly his
life on his journey. Upon arrival, Mr. Covey ordered
Frederick to return to the forest as to show him the
correct way to handle oxen. Surprisingly Mr. Covey ordered
Frederick to remove his clothes. Frederick refused to do
so, and therefore this is where his first of many whippings
came from. As an infant, Frederick was separated from his
mother. This is common in Maryland in an attempt to destroy
the child's relationship with their mother. The separated
child is placed with an older woman who cannot work. He
never saw his mother more than five times, and each time
being in the dark. Since she was a field hand, she was
unavailable from sun up until sun down. Around Frederick's
age of seven his mother died. She had passed away and was
buried before Frederick knew anything about it. He
remembers that time in his life as receiving "the tidings
of her death with much the same emotions I should have
probably felt at the death of a stranger". She never once
mentioned who his father was and rumors went around that
his master was his father. He was unable, however, to find
out the truth behind those rumors. In my opinion, the most
significant point in Douglass' narrative was when he talked
about getting an education. As Mr. Auld said, "if you give
a nigger an inch, he will take an ell", proves to be true.
An ignorant slave will not know better, but an informed
slave has that extra edge. Frederick took advantage of his
inch and made the most of it. Using his knowledge, he gave
others the same gift. I was not aware of such brutal times
slaves had to endure on a daily basis prior to reading the
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I doubt that I
would have read it on my own, but am pleased to now that I
have. Douglass' narrative gave me explicit and detailed
encounters and experiences that will have me looking at
slavery in a completely different, but now informed way. I
get upset when I hear certain Afro-Americans complain about
how the white man controlled them during the slavery years
and we owe them now for what happened over one hundred
years ago. Now I am able to understand (to a certain
extent) why they are so angry at the white man. I disagree
with the slavery issue all together. I wish that it never
would have existed, and feel sympathetic that it did. I am
glad that we as a nation can grow from such a tragedy and
realize that the way those men were treated was nothing but
wrong. I don't care what a man does, nobody deserves to be
shot in the face in the middle of a creek for disobeying.
Upon completing the reading of the Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass, I have a better understanding of what
exactly happened to the slaves in the 1800's and believe
that it is an important reading in American history, as
everyone should be informed about this part of America's


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