With this, Douglass can securely make the claim that slaves are, in fact, human. He does so with conviction, and aims to persuade his predominately white audience that they are capable of harboring reason and complex emotions, like the readers themselves.
"The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege," (Douglass 47). Slavery psychologically impacted individuals -- it completely stripped them of their innate identity, which is a difficult thing to understand in a context of a country so dead-set on individualism within its very foundations.
"the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute," (Douglass 105). Douglass claims the end of slavery and freedom is the climax. When he realizes he is a man, and refuses to obey Covey, that was his freedom; "It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom," (Douglass 113). Slave owners, in many cases, purposely kept their slaves uneducated and ignorant, so that they could not develop the tools of independent men and women, thus keeping them in a position of subservience. Keeping knowledge out of slave hands was white owner's key to power within the context of the institution itself. This was psychological warfare. By keeping their slaves ignorant of the world around them slave owners ensured subjugation and bent the slaves will to become a mere receptacle of service. Without education and knowledge, there is little one can ever do to improve one's own state.
Washington also shows the psychological horrors of slavery. Washington shows that it was only the beginning of a mess of problems dealing with prejudice and inequality. He agrees with Douglass in that education is necessary to once again reclaim the independent status of man after spending so much time allocated to the role of ignorant slave. Washington was born a slave, and represents the ignorance of which was his position in that role; "I am not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth, but at any rate I suspect I must have been born somewhere and at some time," (Washington 1). Yet, his account is much less graphic account of his time spent as a slave. Washington himself is a product of the victimization of women that occurred during slavery. He did not know his father, but states that "I have heard reports to the effect that he was a white man who lived on one of the near-by plantations," (Washington 2). He expresses the joy of emancipation, and the ominous feelings ahead. Washington also portrays slaves as more intelligent than their white masters would have assumed. In the midst of strong stereotypes and prejudices against the black community claiming their inferiority, Washington makes it clear that the slave owners did not entirely win in keeping their slaves completely ignorant. He also shows the incredible will and strength of the slave community to gain knowledge despite what might have been grave and dire consequences. In this, he is very similar to Douglass, who taught himself most of what he knew at the time he wrote his narrative. In regards to discussions he heard as a boy about coming freedom, "These discussions showed that they understood the situation, and that they kept themselves informed of events by what was termed the 'grape-vine' telegraph," (Washington 8). He portrays the institution of slavery as evil. Yet, also justifies the love that slaves thought they felt for their masters, "This tenderness and sympathy on the part of those held in bondage was a result of their kindly and generous nature," (Washington 13). Reconstruction was a failure because the slaves had no idea what to do with their freedom "it was very much like suddenly turning a youth of ten or twelve years out into the world to provide for himself," (Washington 21). Most former slaves had no way to care for themselves, and in their ignorance, would suffer while the majority of a nation would use this to still claim the inferiority of African-Americans. Freedom was only the first step; unlike Douglass who portrays it as the last. According to Washing himself, "Freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it," (Washington 22). This attests to the horrible psychological impact slavery had, and would continue to have on its victims.
The institution of slavery not only affected slaves, but the entire society around them. Douglass makes a point to show how slavery affected people not directly involved in it. That slavery's shadow extended to affect those within society who were not directly involved within it. Slavery is not only physical control, but mental as well. For Douglass, the final step to becoming a free man was standing up to Covey, the slave master, both physically and physically. Being a slave degrades a man, and they must pull themselves out of that condition to regain the status of a man. It turned him into a brute. This then completely stripped Douglass of all the elements and characteristics of being a man. An independent and free man could not live his life in subservience. Douglass showed that slavery was a destructive force to the society as a whole, and that even those not directly involved within its practice held some power in ending it. Slavery morally corrupts all parties involved. This went for slave owners, friends of slave owners, and southerners. But it also went to include northerners, and those who had no direct part in promoting the institution. Douglass claimed it still affected them in a negative light just through their association and citizenship with a nation that had condoned such an evil institution for so long. For example, Mrs. Auld was a good woman who was tainted by her participation in slavery. Sophia Auld is portrayed as a type of fallen woman. Her once sweet and just nature is disintegrated through her participation in the slave system as a slave owner. Thomas Auld, and all of his religious zealous, is also seen to be affected by slavery. Although he is a religious man, he condones and owns slaves. Thus, Douglass portrays him to represent a sort of false Christianity, where Christian ideals and morals are exploited for image, rather than truly followed in life.
Washington also attests to the overreaching influences of slavery within society. He claims that "The whole Republic was a victim of that fundamental error of importing Africa into America," (Washington xv). Washington even states that his white father, who had no role in his upbringing, was also a victim of the institution of slavery, "He was simply another unfortunate victim of the institution which the Nation had engrafted upon it at that time," (3). Slavery was not just a small thing that haunted the slaves and slave masters. It affected everyone in the society as a whole, even those who were not directly involved in it. It tarnished all American ideals of liberty and equality, therefore cheapening the very ideals which Americans banked their reputations on. It was clear that Washington agrees with Douglass in this assertion. This also opens up responsibility for slavery to those who were not even directly involved in the process of slavery itself.
Both narratives also prove incredibly truthful in their basic essence. Although they contain some exaggerations to help prove their message, both narratives are considered autobiographies, and therefore based on factual events within the contexts of their own lives. Douglass was a runaway slave, and therefore he was quick to come out and claim that radical status in his strong attempt to pull white followers in his quest to end slavery. He had been truthful throughout his narrative, and that fact scared his white audience into submission. After all, how could a man have gone through so much despair, and still be the educated and logical man standing in front of them? Washington was also incredibly truthful in his work. Since slavery was abolished when he was young, he only has so many experiences to share of the evil institution while it was in practice. However, he does show the lasting after effects in gruesome detail. He provides factual documentation of his experience, which then gives authority and credibility. Additionally, Washington is quick to make it clear that he understands the society around him, and the obstacles he faces. He understood quite well the great prejudices that stood against them, and that figures like "Uncle Remus" were only strengthening the prejudice against the black community. Thus, he calls upon African-Americans all over the nation to rise against such stereotypes, to educate themselves, and prove such prejudices wrong.
Slavery stood in direct contrast to everything this…