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Anti-Slavery Movement of "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave"
Frederick Douglass' biography entitled, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Life" is a literary work that does not only discuss slavery in broader terms incorporated into a literary work during the 19th century, but the narrative is also a social study of the life of black Americans during the black American slavery period (19th century). Being a social study of the American society during the 19th century, the Douglass biography illustrates the injustices and inequality among black Americans during the black slavery period through vivid and descriptive narrations of the author's experiences as a young black American slave who tried to free himself from the slave bondage. Douglass' biography is also an example of a literary work that focuses on the theme of anti-slavery movement, similar to the objectives of famous black American writers Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriett Ann Jacobs, and Beryl Weston. In using this theme, Frederick Douglass does not only illicit sympathy from the white American society about the horrors of black slavery, but also Douglass' own black American society, by invoking their feelings and emotions about the injustices happening to their felloe black Americans, and making them aware and know that the abuses and sufferings that they face must be called for a radical change; thus, the anti-slavery movement is one of Douglass' primary aim and message in doing the novel.
In proving the thesis in this paper, that is, that the Frederick Douglass novel is an example of an anti-slavery movement literary work, and evokes not only the white American society's sympathy through Douglass' narration, but he also invokes the feelings and emotions of his fellow black Americans in calling for a radical change on the injustices and sufferings that they had experienced in the hands of a cruel white American society. The said thesis will be proven through evidence found in the novel. Douglass' use of the anti-slavery movement is effective because of the use of vivid, illustrative details of a black American slave's (Douglass') life, which represents the sufferings and injustices in the lives of black Americans during the 19th century. These detailed information about the black American slavery's effects on Douglass' fellowmen are enumerated into the following:
Physical and Verbal Abuse in the Everyday Lives of the black American slaves
Social Suppression of the black Americans (through Education and exercise of Individual Rights)
Moral Abuses against the black Americans by the white American society
These outlined effects of the black slavery practice in the American society during Douglass' time shows how the toleration of black slavery in America had produced detrimental effects not only on the black American's psyche, but also to the white American slaveholder as well. These enumerated effects will be discusses in this paper through excerpts from the novel.
The first effect of the black slavery movement is that it resulted to numerous physical and verbal abuses to the black slaves by their white slaveholders, or masters. This effect has a lot to do with Douglass' anti-slavery movement, since the descriptive narrative of the injustices committed to black Americans effectively evoked the feelings of Douglass' fellowmen in wanting for a radical change in their present state of being slaves in the American society. Perhaps one of the most vivid and convincing arguments that Douglass had cited in his novel against the slavery movement is his recollection of the sufferings of black American women in the hands of white slaveholders. In the novel, black American slaves were sexually, physically, and verbally abused by their masters. Douglass himself is a product of a sexual relationship between his mother and Douglass' master (and father). Physical and verbal abuse, meanwhile, is illustrated when Douglass' cited an experience that his aunt Hester had experienced with her master. Sexual abuse was cited in Chapter I, wherein Douglass used his mother as an example of a woman sexually abused by her master: "My father was a white man... my master was my father..." (Chapter 1, par. 3). Physical and verbal abuse, meanwhile, was described in more vivid details by Douglass, also in Chapter 1 of the novel: " I have often been awakened at dawn... By the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood...calling her at the same time a d-d b-h..." (pars. 8 and 10).
There is also social suppression of the basic rights that the black Americans should receive in their society, like education, good living, and most importantly, the freedom to exercise their individual rights. All of these privileges were not met, and were even selfishly neglected to be given to them (black Americans) by their white slaveholders. As if being subjected to slavery wasn't enough, Douglass also narrated how education was suppressed and underdevelopment encouraged to them as the white American society's means of suppressing insurrection and awareness of the slaves' plight in their society. Douglass himself is a victim of this suppression. He describes his first encounter with education while serving as a slave in the household of Mr. And Mrs. Hugh Auld in Chapter 6. Mrs. Auld "kindly commenced" Douglass to teach him the alphabets, which is the first step to learning, specifically, through reading. When Mrs. Auld's husband learned of this activity between his wife and his slave, Douglass, and reprimanded her by saying that educating Douglass "was unlawful... unsafe... A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master... Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world" (Chap. 6, par. 3). By stating that learning or educating Douglass would 'spoil the best nigger in the world,' Mr. Auld was referring to Douglass merely as a commodity to be used, and that education will hinder Douglass' productivity and use as the couple's slave and property. This is an example of educational hindrance on black Americans during the 29th century. Another case of the 'underdevelopment strategies' that white slaveholders use towards their slaves is through the lure that slaveholders give to their slaves during the holidays, such as long day vacations, which encourages drinking sprees and other non-indulging activities meant to under-develop the talents and abilities of the blacks. Douglass described these strategies as a "part and parcel of the gross fraud, wrong and inhumanity of slavery," and special holiday vacations and long drinking sprees are the "most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection" (Chapter 10, pars.16-17). Thus, even goodness towards the slaves can be meant as a ploy to keep black American slaves from planning to revolt or protest against the slavery movement and assert for their rights. This slaveholders' ploy does not only suppress individual rights of the slaves, but they also under-develop the skills and talents that they have by impairing these skills and talents through alcohol-drinking and other non-productive activities.
Perhaps one of the most important narrative that Douglass gave in his novel is that the slavery movement does not only bring out the worst conditions of the black slaves, but it also reflects the worst moral conditions of the white American society as well. It is important to not that Douglass implies to us that there are still individuals in the white society who does not practice slavery the way overseers and slaveholders do, which is to whip, abuse, and even kill the slaves. Douglass' experiences with the numerous masters that he had illustrate how the power 'bestowed' to the white society had affected the moral and character traits of these people. One good example is Mrs. Hugh Auld's attitude after she was reprimanded by her husband against teaching Douglass to read. Douglass described…[continue]
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