In this book, Fredrick Douglass' with the use of epiphanies narrates to his audience his journey from being born a slave to his acquisition of freedom. Through Fredrick Douglass' a reader has an insight of how horrible slavery and life in the south was for an African American in mid 19th century. Through clear and vivid descriptions, Frederick Douglass is able to narrate of his experiences, from his childhood, youth and also as an adult slave. By narrating about his life Fredrick is able to talk about slavery as a whole, letting his intended audience to learn and continue in his footsteps in the fight to abolish slavery.
Based in a mid 19th century America when slavery and racism was the order of the day, with the southern states of American even legalizing slavery and accepted racial prejudice as a thing in their society. The author uses moments of realizations, epiphanies, to narrate his journey. These moments of realizations not only act as reference points for a reader of the book, they also act as turning points in the authors life and show how he got achieve freedom and what he learned along the way.
Fredrick Douglass is successful in his purpose of conveying a powerful message by writing this narrative. The narratives that are found in the book are very detailed and have the potential of whipping emotions from the target audience; the book indeed is a good inspirational tool for use in the fight against slavery, especially in the context of its availability at that time. The entire book and the events narrated in the book have the potential of resonating with the audience, especially African Americans who so much wanted to achieve freedom, both of mind and body.
Throughout the entire book, with the use of particular events, moment of realizations, Fredrick Douglass helps his readers to identify even sympathize with his struggles. The book itself has the power of illuminating how the life of a slave in the South was at that time. Through the authors descriptions of the particular moments that he came to his realizations, a reader is able to feel the enlightenment, the pain and the suffering that is experienced by Douglass in his journey and therefore understanding how difficult the horrors of slavery were to deal with.
Of the many different horrors of slavery that Douglass puts across in his book is the horror of physical abuse. In the first chapter of the book, Douglass narrates of how he is woken up one morning by the shrieks of pain coming from her aunt who was being whipped by their master outside. Fredrick Douglass vividly explains this experience in detail. He describes how painful this experience was to him and how it traumatized him even though he himself was not being beaten.
Douglass describes how his master whipped his aunt, increasing his momentum with every cry of pain from the woman, half naked hanging from a tree with blood dripping down the wounds resulting from the whips. This event shows the reader how slaves were subjected to physical abuse during this time, even being caned half naked in front of children. Through such descriptions, Frederick Douglass makes his audience aware of the despicable acts that African Americans had to endure from their White masters, even from the simple mistakes that did not deserve such punishments.
Another horror of slavery that can been drawn from this particular event is the trauma and mental toll such experiences had on the children who watched their guardians being punished, being abused. Fredrick Douglass explains how this event is forever ingrained in his mind and the amount of fear and pain he felt, he even explains how he hid in a closet thinking that he was going to be punished next. This shows that slavery was not only a physical form of oppression it was also a mental way of oppressing African Americans.
The first experience with physical abuse elaborated above is where Fredrick Douglass experiences his first epiphany. He realizes that he is a slave, and what slavery was all about. This is when he realizes that he knows little of his parentage because of how slavery was structured denying slaves the privilege of having and maintaining families.
Another horror of slavery that Fredrick Douglass enlightens his audience of is the denial of an education. Whites wanted to maintain African Americans as ignorant knowing that their access to education would mean an end of their domination over black folk. In his second epiphany, Fredrick Douglass learns of the existence of education when he is taken to serve at his new masters in Baltimore. The new master's wife starts teaching him how to read even though she gets in trouble and stops teaching him. At this point, Fredrick Douglass realizes that slavery only exists not because of the superiority of the white man nor the inferiority of the black man, but because the masters kept the slaves ignorant.
From this epiphany, the author is inspired to believe that the road to freedom is through education and here is when his interest to seek freedom is first sparked. The author even goes on to teach himself how to read and write from other slaves in Baltimore who had had the privilege of learning to do so (Douglass, pp.30-45).
Rape, is another horror of slavery that is explained in the book. Fredrick Douglass explains how he suspects that his parentage is from the result of his white master raping his mother and his birth resulting from this experience. It was common for the white masters at the time to take advantage young female slaves and even sire children with them. As Douglass narrates, about a thousand mulatto children were born each and every year in slave farms, and most of these children were the result of rape.
This explains why so many slaves had no knowledge of their parentage, since after delivery the children were put in the care of older women as their parents were sent to work in distant farms. This not only denied the slaves the privilege of having proper family structure, it also denied them the feeling of love that children could get from their parents, which affects the slaves even in their adulthood (Douglass, pp.10-35) .
As Fredrick Douglass matures, both mentally and physically, he starts fighting actively for his freedom. As he starts questioning and answering back to his master he is sent away to another master who is considered the breaker of slaves with the intention of breaking his spirit. This new master, called Covey was successful at first, physically abusing Douglass and almost breaking his resolve and spirit. Douglass retires into a brutish man with no more interests for freedom until one day when he decides that he would rather die than have to live as a slave.
Fredrick Douglass third epiphany happens when one day he fights back when his master wanted to whip him. After a two hour long fight with the master, covey leaves Douglass alone never to touch or whip him again. From then hence forth douglass vows never to be whipped again and he never was whipped again for the rest of his life. After the fight Douglass realizes that his freedom was not going to be handed to him, he realized that he had to fight for it, now resolving more than ever to escape to the North and achieve his freedom (Stone, pp. 192-213 ).
After Mr. Covey, Douglass bounces from one master to another before finally being able to escape to the North. This is after a stint at Baltimore ship yard working as an apprentice where he gets to experience racism against him for being black, because the white shipyard workers were afraid of the new breed of black apprentices taking their jobs. From Douglass' experience at the ship yard we realize how threatened white folk were of the enlightenment of African Americans further proving Douglass' ideal that the only way to freedom for Africans was through education even informal education in skill apprenticeship.
The final epiphany of the author occurs when he is in Massachusetts; Fredrick Douglass realizes that he can never be free until slavery is completely abolished. It is then that he joins the abolitionist's movement in New York and sets to work on his narrative.
In conclusion, Frederick Douglass is successful in his activism through his narrative. He is also triumphant in his literary work which proves to be a masterpiece close to two centuries later. The intention of writing the narrative was to teach others to follow in his footsteps in the abolition of slavery, which two centuries later can be argued to be a success (Dorsey, pp. 435-450).
Dorsey, Peter A. "Becoming the Other: The Mimesis of Metaphor in Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom." Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1996): 435-450.
Douglass, Frederick. My bondage and my freedom. Modern Library, 2007.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Random House Digital, Inc., 2000.
Stone, Albert E. "IDENTITY AND ART IN FREDERICK DOUGLASS'S" NARRATIVE"." CLA Journal 17.2 (1973): 192-213.
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