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Frederick Douglass An American Slave Essay

The memoir The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave was written in 1845. In Frederick Douglass’s book, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave, the author criticizes the American Society through the use of Christianity, Slavery, Ignorance, Inhumanity and Humanity. The memoir recounts his life from birth to his arrival in New Bedford in 1838 as a slave fugitive and a married man. Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in 1818. The abolitionist later became known as Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived on Holmes Hill Farm in Talbot County, Maryland.

Douglass was the son of a slave named Harriet Bailey. He was taken away from his mother when he was an infant. His grandmother raised him while his mother worked the fields. When Douglass aged to be six he was taken away from his grandmother. His father was an unknown white man, rumoured to be his slave owner at the time. Slaves were not entitled to know anything about themselves (Cyclopedia of Literary Places). Throughout his childhood on the plantations Douglass witnessed many acts of cruelty, ranging from unjust beatings to unwarranted and unpunished murders of slaves by white owners or their overseers.

Douglass describes the treatment of slaves on these plantations, presenting not simply the cruel actions of his individual masters, but also the savagery of slavery in rural America as a whole. The level of cruelty on each plantation varies depending on the dispositions of each master, but as a whole the rural Maryland Douglass shows is unflinchingly cruel. On the plantations Douglass witnessed slaves backs being torn to shreds from whippings, shrieks piercing the night, and sleeping on cold floors. There were days when slaves worked in the hot sun with an empty stomach.

Mothers were also torn apart from their children (Cyclopedia of Literary Places). In 1826 Douglass was sent to live with Hugh Auld and his family in Baltimore. Mrs. Auld teaches Douglass how to read and she taught him his abc’s. When Mr. Auld found out about it he was furious. He told his wife that the quickest way to “spoil” a slave is to teach him how to read. Douglass began to learn on his own. By the age of twelve, Douglass could read essays from a book of famous speeches he acquired. Reading, however, showed him for the first time the true injustice of his own position.

Douglass came to realize that anything that his master deemed bad must be good for him. Along with understanding the potential power inherent in the ability to read nothing less than the power of the white man to enslave the black man. As a consequence of his small acts of rebellion, however, he was sent to a slave breaker, Mr. Covey, whose job it was to destroy the will of a slave and to create an obedient worker and servant. Covey was known for his ability to physically and mentally break slaves. During his first six months with Mr. Covey Douglass was subjected to strict discipline and endless work.

He is not allowed to keep the wages he earns from a job. Douglass received frequent beatings from convey until they fought in August 1834, and Douglass was never beaten by Covey again. Slaveholders did not truly accept slaves as humans (Douglass Masterplots). Douglass was a spiritual man. He expressed that he was a spiritual man. The Christianity that Douglass believed in was the one based on the teachings of Christ, and not the misuses of the religion by the slaveholders. Douglass rebuked the Christian churches that allowed the ownership of blacks by whites.

Douglass hated the slaveholding, women beating, and hypocritical Christianity of the land. Douglass found out that even the most outwardly religious masters were cruel. In the memoir Douglass describes Christians who indicate Pharisaical strictness to the form of religion and neglect, mercy and faith. The slaveholders were always ready to sacrifice the slaves but were seldom to show mercy. Douglass believed that they were professing to love a God whom they have not seen, while they hate their brother whom they have seen.

In the memoir he demonstrates the way religion and its literature, the bible, had a negative influence and effect on slavery as well as the development of Christianity (Douglass, 10. 19). Douglass believed that there were two different versions of Christianity. The slaves and colored people believed in one version of Christianity and the masters and White Americans, believed in another version. The two versions were “the Christianity of this land”, and “the Christianity of Christ”. In the memoir Douglass describes Christianity as loving the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ.

Douglass despised the hypocritical Christianity in the land (Appendix. 1). The masters and slaveholders signify no innate goodness. Slaveholders put slaves to excessive labor without enough food and rest. Those were the characteristics of slaveholders actions towards slaves. Douglass described the relationship between the slaveholders who were religious and nonreligious. Douglass explained that the masters used Christianity as an excuse to treat slaves cruel. Christianity helped the slaves achieve grace, but the christianity that the masters practice allowed no hope. Douglass, 10. 19).

Humanity and Inhumanity were both criticized throughout the memoir as well. Humanity is the human race and inhumanity is the act of being cruel or acting in a brutal behavior. Slaves were looked down on because of their skin color and what race they belonged too. Douglass dehumanized the institution of slavery. He believed that if a human being holds power over another one without any responsibility to that person that other is the result in the loss of humanity. The human nature endeavors towards fairness.

Slaveholders did not view the slaves as humans. They treated them as if they were animals. Slaves loved molasses. As a punishment slaves were forced to eat them until they were sick. This was an act of inhumanity because the slaveholders were being cruel and brutal towards the slaves. Slaves were treated cruel because of there humanity. Slaveholders also made the slaves over eat so that they will not ask for more which was another cruel act.

The slaves were kept in bondage through sustained ignorance. Douglass Critical Survey of American Literature). Ignorance is when an individual lacks knowledge. Ignorance was expressed throughout the memoir. Slaveholders believed that blacks were incapable of participating in the American society and should therefore be kept as workers for the slaveholders. In the memoir, he explains the policies by which the slaveholders gain and maintain power over blacks. Slaveholders kept slaves ignorant of basic facts about themselves, such as their date of birth or their paternity (Douglass, 11).

This had an impact on the decrease of a child’s natural sense of individual identity. As slave children grew older slave owners prevented them how to read and write. Slaveholders suspected that literacy would give them selfsufficiency and capability. The slaveholders knew that literacy would soon lead the slaves to question the right of whites to keep slaves. By keeping the slaves ignorant and illiterate, slaveholders in the South maintain control over what the rest of America knowed about slavery. Since slaves could not read or write their side of the story cannot be told.

Slaveholders deprived slaves from getting an education because he wanted their wills to be free to be ruined. Just as slaveholders keep women and men as slaves divesting them of knowledge and education, slaves must seek knowledge and education to pursue freedom. Douglass became dedicated in teaching himself and other slaves because he knew there was a route to freedom. Douglass’s literacy allowed him to advance in becoming an abolitionist. Moved by the abolitionist cause, Douglass stood up to speak at an Anti Slavery convention in Massachusetts.

At the Anti-Slavery convention Douglass recounted his life as a slave (Douglass Masterplots). For the first time, Douglass realized that there were people opposed to slavery that were against the practice (Douglass, Survey of American Literature). Douglass found white abolitionists as well as blacks who wanted to end slavery and tried to protect slaves from being sent back to the south. When slavery was abolished, Douglass was abashed at the thought of speaking to white people, but the words soon came more easily.

The sense of ignorance that Douglass experienced as he was a child allowed him to become an influential abolitionist himself. This is what led him to write his story of his life under slavery and the criticisms. Throughout Douglass’s life him and others were criticized about their humanity and inhumanity. What Douglass experienced in life allowed him to become a better person and it allowed him to stand up for what he believed in. It also led to the abolishing of slavery. The criticisms affected the American society tremendously.

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