Gates Frederick Douglas Slave Narrative Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1452 Words
Date:  2022-09-26

Frederick Douglass was a prominent abolitionist whose work gave antebellum America a critical perspective into slavery. During a seven-year stint in slavery within the city of Baltimore, Douglas learnt how to read and write (46). Douglas aptly used his acquired literacy to speak out against the evils of slavery in, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave. As a child, Douglas was serially shipped out to different family members of the Auld household and gets to experience different types of slavery from owner to owner. As he reveals, slaveowners widely vary across a wide range between nice and cruel slave-owners (45). Nonetheless, Douglass delivers a scathing verdict on the institution of slavery regardless of the cruelty or niceness of any particular slave-owner.

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Douglass was born in Colonel Edward Lloyd's plantation in the in Tuckahoe Maryland. However, just like all slaves, he had no known date of birth (1). He notes that "By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs ... I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday" (1). This abrupt, brutal introduction into the life of a slave sets the tone of the entire autobiography. The introduction serves the purpose of equating the life of a slave to that of a farm animal. Most slaves around Douglass seem content with their ignorance about their ages and birthdays. However, being more conscious of his predicament and surroundings, Douglass can't help but realize that he is deprived the same privilege accorded to white children (74). Who are aware of their ages and often celebrate their birthdays. As such, he remains unhappy throughout his childhood since he is not allowed to enquire the same from his master, lest he gets into his bad books.

To make matters worse, Douglass is cruelly separated from his mother even before knowing who she was. Douglass goes further and reads into this as a deliberate part of the institution of slavery. That is, by remaining ignorant of their own identities, and without any natural affection between parents and their children, slaves would not acquire a restless spirit. A spirit that would make them impertinent and improper necessitating the use of cruelties such as whipping (2, 48, 57).

From the account of Douglass's early childhood, it is clear that slavery as an institution was designed to produce the best slaves. Such a slave was one that was proper and pertinent. That is an object who could perform duties as commanded by the master. It, therefore, served no purpose to accord any form of decency to a slave as an owner since that would only dissipate their utility. If a slave was attached to their parent or any other close relative, they were clearly more likely to rebel the system and thus unproductive and unpliable. As such right from inception, slavery was cruel irrespective of whether a slave served a cruel or nice master. In fact, in some instances, a nice master would be more problematic than a cruel master. Without a doubt, Colonel Edward was a hardened, military, man. As such, his slaves would often taste his whip whenever they strayed from the proper and pertinent (25). In fact, Douglas repeatedly witnesses brutal sessions of whipping of slaves of all kinds. As such, he grows knowing what was expected of him. However, the restricted lifestyle Douglas was used to as a plantation slave changed drastically when he was parceled to the city to work for Hugh Auld. It is from this experience that Douglass learns to read and write, unlike any other slave he had left behind in the plantation (32).

Douglass was introduced to reading and writing by his second mistress, Sophia Auld (32). However, when his master became aware of the arrangement between his wife and his slave, he directed and advised his wife to desist immediately. In this case, Mrs. Auld's niceness and charity to her slave was erroneously counterbalanced by the institutionalized slave-owner experience of Mr. Auld. Mrs. Auld is countermanding any other attempts to instruct Douglass from any other well-wisher. Douglass recognizes that this change in Mrs. Auld occurred as a consequence of the assumption of her duties as a slaveowner. When Douglas arrived Mrs. Auld had a charitable heart that made saw her provide clothes for the naked, give bread to the hungry, and mercy for the bereaved. However, as she became aware of her requirement to treat Douglas as mere chattel; as it was expected of every slave-owner, she developed fierceness, and her tender heart turned stone cold (32).

In every way, Mrs. Auld became even worse than Mr. Auld. Quickly she developed a strong opinion that slavery was incompatible with education. This made her even more anxious and eager to police Douglas from reading anything. As such, her tender niceness became even fiercer than her husband's steeped commanding toe towards Douglas. Slavery not only affected the enslaved such as Douglas but it also gravely affected slaveowners. Especially innocent ones like Mrs. Auld who learned what was expected of them as slaveowners, from experience. Mr. Auld's assertion especially convinces Mrs. Auld that teaching Douglas to read would only make him an unfit slave (33). As such, it was better to deal with a cruel owner than a nice owner who could conform into the cruel role defined for them by the larger slave-owning society. However, for slaves like Douglas; who is intelligent, rollbacks on such things as reading and writing only inspired more determination in them to get better. As such, Douglas determinably continued pursuing his dreams by making every other friendly white boy in the streets his teacher. That inadvertently prepared his mindset to face future hardships in slavery.

Life changed drastically again for Douglas when he was sent back to the plantation to work for Thomas Auld. Hugh Auld's brother (45). Away from the city of Baltimore, Douglas was forced to contend with the harsh realities of plantation slavery. He describes the reality of plantation life as tenfold harsher than he could remember it from seven years earlier. His new master, Thomas was also the worst he had to live under. By a long shot. Douglas (45-46) describes Thomas as a mean man, who was not only creative with his meanness but also reputed as the meanest of all slaveowners in his locality. Slaves often spent entire days in the plantation work. As such, it was customary for slaveowners to feed their slaves as best as they could. However, Thomas was not particularly fond of feeding his slaves. Instead, he used food as a tool of control. Thomas only allowed his four slaves to feed, "less than a half of a bushel of corn-meal per week, and very little else, either in shape of meat or vegetables" (45-46). This was far from what the slaves required to sustain themselves from the backbreaking work in the plantation. As such, Douglas and his compatriots were forced to steal and beg from the plantation's neighbors. Despite their desolate plight, if caught in the act they were liable to receive a brutal whipping that would leave them healing for days (49). Thomas would, however, reward the most pliable slaves with food and housework away from the field to the chagrin of other slaves. According to Douglas, there was nothing else comparable to such treatment that divided and broke down slaves as Thomas's food policies.

Douglas became hopeful that Thomas Auld's religious awakening would tone down his cruelty. He especially hoped that a pious Auld would become more merciful and less cruel. However, as elaborated, religion only affirmed and emboldened Thomas in administering his authority as a slave-owner (47). For instance, the scripture only accorded Thomas justification for even unspeakable and bloody cruelties on his slaves. For instance, to justify whipping a young woman until she bled Thomas would quote the scripture in such passages as, "He that knoweth his master's will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes" (48). As such, not even the merciful teachings of Christianity would help make slavery humane or right.


In conclusion, Slavery was wrong. That's because everything that came into contact with it; irrespective of its prior goodness or niceness, turned cruel, animalistic, and brutal. This is evident in Mrs. Sophia Auld's case whereby she becomes even crueler than her husband after Douglas becomes her slave. Throughout his life as a slave, Douglas is treated with unspeakable cruelty and is beneath even compares himself to pack animals like horses right at the beginning of his narratives. As such, slavery was wrong as an institute and nothing would help justify, or make it right.

Work Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office. 1845.

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Gates Frederick Douglas Slave Narrative Essay. (2022, Sep 26). Retrieved from

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