The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave details the progression of a slave to a man, and thus, the formation of his identity. The narrative functions as a persuasive essay, written in the hopes that it would successfully lead to “hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of [his] brethren in bonds” (Douglass 331). As an institution, slavery endeavored to reduce the men, women, and children “in bonds” to a state less than human. The slave identity, according to the institution of slavery, was not to be that of a rational, self forming, equal human being, but rather, a human animal whose purpose is to work and obey the whims of their “master.” For these reasons, Douglass articulates a distinction between the terms ‘man’ and ‘slaves’ under the institution of slavery. In his narrative, Douglass describes the situations and conditions that portray the differences between the two terms. Douglass also depicts the progression he makes from internalizing the slaveholder viewpoints about what his identity should be to creating an identity of his own making. Thus, Douglass’ narrative depicts not simply a search for freedom, but also a search for himself through the abandonment of the slave/animal identity forced upon him by the institution of slavery.
The reader is first introduced to the idea of Douglass’s formation of identity outside the constraints of slavery before he or she even begins reading the narrative. By viewing the title page and reading the words “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, written by himself” the reader sees the advancement Douglass made from a dependent slave to an independent author (Stone 134). As a slave, he was forbidden a voice with which he might speak out against slavery. Furthermore, the traditional roles of slavery would have had him uneducated—unable to read and incapable of writing. However, by examining the full meaning of the title page, the reader is introduced to Douglass’s refusal to adhere to the slave role of uneducated and voiceless. Thus, even before reading the work, the reader knows that Douglass will show “how a slave was made a man” through “speaking out—the symbolic act of self-definition” (Stone 135).
In the first chapter of the narrative, Douglass introduces the comparison between slaves and animals, writing that “the larger...
... middle of paper ...
...details the transformation of a slave to a man. The institution of slavery defined a slave as less than human, and in order to perpetuate that impression, slaveholders forbade slaves the luxury of self definition. Therefore, when Douglass finally rejects the notions about his identity forced on him by slavery, and embraces an identity of his own creation, he has completed his journey from slave to man. He no longer defines himself in terms of the institution of slavery, but by his own thoughts regarding what his identity is. Through the metamorphosis of his identity as “an animal” to an author who fights for the abolitionist movement, Douglass presents his narrative not simply as a search for freedom, but also a search for himself.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." – Frederick Douglass
Douglass, Frederick. “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” The Classic Slave Narratives. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. New York: Penguin Group, 1987.
Stone, Albert. “Identity and Art in Frederick Douglass’s ‘Narrative’.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism: Volume 7. Ed. Paula Kepos. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990. 134-137.
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- ... The emotional and mental brutality that comes with the restriction of your learning transformed the way Douglass viewed himself and the role he played in gaining freedom. His quest for freedom was now dependent on his hunger for information and using it against the slaveholding ideology. He no longer believed his condition was inevitable and he would be enslaves for life. The words of caution uttered by his master gave him the assurance and confidence needed to know great results would come from learning to read.... [tags: Slavery, Slavery in the United States]
1675 words (4.8 pages)
- The word identity has become the most discussed idea in our society. It is described mostly, to be a word that stands for who we are. Therefore, because of who we are, identity has come to be a word that we use to claim and understand people’s actions in our society. So in this paper I will be analysing how social practices surrounding identity relates to gender in social, personal levels, through the work of three authors; by Ian Hacking on “kind making”, Margaret Somers on “Narrative construction of identity” and finally, Frederick Cooper and Rogers Brubaker on “beyond identity” .... [tags: Society, Personal Level]
1615 words (4.6 pages)
- ... Throughout the narrative, the writer revealed how the slaves were prevented from accessing the basic ideas that provided them with the means for constructing legitimate identities. At the descriptions beginning, Douglass mentioned that the slaves were not aware that they were born which was the wish of many masters so as to keep them ignorant. Knowing one 's birth date provided them with particular human identity, history in time and location. The teachers denied them the basic knowledge so to maintain their psychological levels with that of the animals.... [tags: Slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglass]
1597 words (4.6 pages)
- In the book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, by Frederick Douglass, he tells us through his narrative his self-transformation from being an object to a free human. Through the process of becoming a free man, he describes his experiences and of other slaves to shed a light on slavery during the nineteenth century. I will give a background history of Frederick Douglass, the content of that period, some hardships and themes like, ignorance and knowledge that are mentioned in the narrative that connect to the period.... [tags: Slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglass]
1736 words (5 pages)
- Slavery and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass In 1845, Frederick Douglass told his compelling story of life as slave and as a free man. Through the words of somebody who endured slavery, we can only get a taste of what it was like, for we will never truly know the feeling of the severe physical punishment and the cruelty the slaves endured. Whippings, beatings and lynchings were all too common during the era of slavery. However, not only were their bodies treated so harshly, but their minds and souls were as well.... [tags: The Narrative of Frederick Douglass]
582 words (1.7 pages)
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Complete Title: An Exploration of the Relationship between Southern Christianity and Slaveholding as seen in the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Written by Himself” Dr. Pautreaux’s comments: What makes this paper memorable is the fact that this student is also a minister. Both his command of the language and his insight as a minister gave this paper a unique view of the narrative. We can so easily deceive ourselves into believing that what is accepted by the general population as normal behavior is also justifiably correct.... [tags: Narrative Life Frederick Douglass]
1099 words (3.1 pages)
- O th sin th white folks `mitted when they made th bible lie. You're lucky that my people Are stronger than yo' evil, Or yo' ass, would `a got the heave-ho. Ice Cube, The Predator Frederick Douglass certainly knew that his narrative might be taken by many of his readers as a conscious rejection of Christian faith. Accordingly, he informs his readers that the inclusion of an Appendix at the end of his tale should be seen as an attempt to "remove the liability of such misapprehension" from their thoughts.... [tags: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass]
2295 words (6.6 pages)
- Dehumanization and Freedom in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass The issue of slavery in antebellum America was not black and white. Generally people in the North opposed slavery, while inhabitants of the South promoted it. However, many people were indifferent. Citizens in the North may have seen slavery as neither good nor bad, but just a fact of Southern life. Frederick Douglass, knowing the North was home to many abolitionists, wrote his narrative in order to persuade these indifferent Northern residents to see slavery as a degrading practice.... [tags: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass]
1733 words (5 pages)
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass The tone established in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is unusual in that from the beginning to the end the focus has been shifted. In the beginning of the narrative Douglass seems to fulfill every stereotypical slavery theme. He is a young black slave who at first cannot read and is very naïve in understanding his situation. As a child put into slavery Douglass does not have the knowledge to know about his surroundings and the world outside of slavery.... [tags: Narrative Life Frederick Douglass Essays]
915 words (2.6 pages)
- Comparing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl What provokes a person to write about his or her life. What motivates us to read it. Moreover, do men and women tell their life story in the same way. The answers may vary depending on the person who answers the questions. However, one may suggest a reader elects to read an autobiography because there is an interest. This interest allows the reader to draw from the narrator's experience and to gain understanding from the experience.... [tags: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass]
2161 words (6.2 pages)