Essay Example on Social Changes in American Society: Frederick Douglass & Sentimentalism

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  1063 Words
Date:  2023-09-27

Social changes in American society is triggered by various factors. In the time of slavery, the narratives made by former slaves, such as Fredrick Douglas and the rise of sentimentalism had a significant role to play in the emancipation process. There exist similarities and differences between these pieces of literature. They both had a profound effect on society for they were the driving force behind the slaves calling for the abolition of the practice. The rise of sentimentalism relied on emotions to raise moral judgment while the narratives depicted the lives of the slaves with the focus being on the problems they were encountering while in bondage (Glass 65). These literature pieces have a positive effect on society for they are helping in the introduction of peace, liberty, and freedom among the person in bondage. Additionally, they are used to raise arguments that are supporting the anti-slavery campaigns helping to convince the persons that do not understand the importance of freedom.

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Writing on anti-slavery played a significant role in helping to end the issue of slavery. Abolitionists made use of books, poetry, literature, and newspapers to spread the message against the oppression of people. Slave narratives that involve personal statements on what it meant to be in bondage enable the abolitionists to raise anti-slavery agreements and get more people to join in this fight (Chaulagain 2). Former slaves, such as Fredrick Douglas became lecturers, and they went on tours sensitizing the public on the benefits of ending slavery. They gave their stories to people, and the statements were also written down, and the information he gave had a profound social impact on the American society. Fredrick states that he lacks accurate knowledge of his age, and he does not know his father, yet it is claimed that his master was the biological father. The ways that he could have used to know the truth were kept away from him, and this depict society’s way of life during the slavery period. The issue affected the way that human beings interact and create relationships between them (Grabarek 120). Based on the narrative, the separation of children from their mothers at an early age led to them lacking parental love and connection with their parents. It was a procedure that was of preferred by many masters to keep the slaves ignorant.

The slaves encountered many tough times for they used to sleep on cold floors, and they frequently received beatings from their masters irrespective of their age or gender. They were denied an opportunity to learn and read as the masters claimed that this would enable the slaves to understand that they are being oppressed and they will rebel. The situation is notable when Fredrick is sent to work in a city for Hugh Auld and the master’s wife, Sophia starts to teach. However, when Hugh manages to know about the teachings and he requests his wife to stop doing it. The action shows that there was a significant difference in the way people interacted during slavery times as opposed to the way a normal society is expected to manoeuvre. There was a distinction in class, and this was through the ability of the slaves to analyses various concepts in life and the procedures used by their masters. However, the statements that teaching a slave how to read and write will make them unfit to live in bondage makes Douglas become determined to acquire knowledge. He evens offers hungry white children bread in exchange for information. Douglas states that “"I succeeded in learning to read and write . . . [through] various stratagems," including offering bread to hungry white children in exchange for reading lessons.” The rise of sentimentalism is notable in this case, for it is evident that the application of emotions helped Douglas to find the means to acquire education.

Offering food in exchange for education helped in transforming the social and cultural institution over time for Fredrick’s learning process enabled him to create narratives that were used by anti-slavery programs and abolitionist to fight for the emancipation process. The societal impact was evident for it laid the foundation for the end to slavery. The collective power that seems to have had a significant effect on slavery was triggered by the narratives given by Fredrick among others former slaves, and this affected the American society in a great way. The rise of sentimentalism had a significant effect on American society, and this triggered the occurrence of similar social changes (Aaltola 20). People’s desires and emotions play a leading role when engaging in matters regarding morality and sentimentalism may show evocation of sympathy.


There is a high level of similarity between the rise of sentimentalism and the life of Fredrick Douglas for it can be noted that some of the social changes experienced in the American society were driven by emotions and the issues that the slaves had endured for a long time. In the case of Fredrick, it is the understanding that education is a ticket to freedom that enabled him to pursue knowledge. Questions can be raised on whether the masters that owned the slaves did anything wrong, as explained by Fredrick. Sentimentalism would argue that thoughts could only be explained by following emotions and the statements that would be raised is that the whites were engaging in immoral behavior (Motooka 40). They would oppress the slaves, make them live in inhumane conditions and deny them an opportunity to exercise their rights. These pieces of literature were equally important for they had similar goals which were to ensure that slaves were no longer getting subjected to tough experiences. The solutions that they triggered had a major impact on the whole society at large, even though the process of ending slavery was gradual.

Works Cited

Aaltola, Elisa. "The Rise of Sentimentalism and Animal Philosophy." Animal Ethics and Philosophy: Questioning the Orthodoxy. London: Rowman and Littlefield (2015).

Chaulagain, Yashoda. "Literacy and Freedom in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave." Pragyan Foundation 5.2 (2018): 1-7.

Grabarek, Daryl. "Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man." Language Arts 97.2 (2019): 117-121.

Glass, Traci, and Tom Batten. "The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom." Library Journal 143.20 (2018): 65.

Motooka, Wendy. The Age of Reasons: Quixotism, Sentimentalism, and Political Economy in Eighteenth Century Britain. Routledge, 2013.

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