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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

4.6 124
by Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a memoir and treatise on abolition written by famous orator and ex-slave, Frederick Douglass. It is generally held to be the most famous of a number of narratives written by former slaves during the same period. In factual detail, the text describes the events of his life and is considered to be one of the most


Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a memoir and treatise on abolition written by famous orator and ex-slave, Frederick Douglass. It is generally held to be the most famous of a number of narratives written by former slaves during the same period. In factual detail, the text describes the events of his life and is considered to be one of the most influential pieces of literature to fuel the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century in the United States.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass encompasses eleven chapters that recount Douglass' life as a slave and his ambition to become a free man.

The story begins by telling the reader that Douglass does not know the date of his birth and that he is relatively saddened by this. He continues by explaining that his mother died when he was 7 years old. This does not affect Douglass outwardly because he was intentionally separated from his mother when he was very young, a practice which was common in slavery. His father was believed to be a white man, and most people actually had the notion that Douglass was the son of his owner. At a very early age, Douglass witnesses his first brutal act of slavery when he sees Aunt Hester being whipped. The text continues and details the structure of farms, what role slaves play, and how they operate when interacting with their masters. A very important section of the Narrative is found at this point, where Douglass describes the singing of the slaves. After this, Douglass details the cruel interaction that occurs between slaves and slave holders, as well as how slaves are supposed to behave in the presence of their masters, and that even when Douglass says that fear is what kept many slaves where they were, when they tell the truth they are punished by their owners. Douglass continues by describing several events in which there has been extreme brutality against his fellow slaves.

The story continues from here through his years.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published in 1845, and within four months of this publication, five thousand copies were sold. By 1860, almost 30,000 copies were sold. After publication, he sailed to England and Ireland for two years in fear of being recaptured by his owner in the United States. While in Britain and Ireland, he gained supporters who paid $710.96 to purchase his emancipation from his legal owner. One of the more significant reasons Douglass published his Narrative was to offset the demeaning manner in which white people viewed him. When he spoke in public, his white abolitionists established limits to what he could say on the platform. More specifically, they did not want him to analyze the current slavery issues or to shape the future for black people. However, once Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published, he was given the liberty to begin more ambitious work on the issue rather than giving the same speeches repetitively. Because of the work in his Narrative, Douglass gained significant credibility from those who previously did not believe the story of his past. While in Ireland the Dublin edition of the book was published by the abolitionist printer Richard D. Webb to great acclaim and Douglass would write extensively in later editions very positively about his experience in Ireland. His newfound liberty on the platform eventually led him to start a black newspaper against the advice of his "fellow" abolitionists. The publication of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass opened several doors, not only for Douglass' ambitious work, but also for the anti-slavery movement of that time.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass has received many positive reviews, however, there was a group of people who opposed Douglass’ work. One of his biggest critics, A. C. C. Thompson, was a neighbor of the master of Douglass. As seen in “Letter from a Slave Holder” he call Frederick "an unlearned, and rather an ordinary negro."

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Balefire Publishing
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Barnes & Noble
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Meet the Author

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his experiences in slavery in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became influential in its support for abolition. He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War. After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the United States' struggle to reach its potential as a "land of the free".

Douglass actively supported women's suffrage. Without his approval, he became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate of Victoria Woodhull on the impracticable and small Equal Rights Party ticket. Douglass held multiple public offices.

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, famously quoted as saying, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

Brief Biography

Tuckahoe, Maryland
Date of Birth:
Date of Death:
February 20, 1895
Place of Death:
Washington, D.C.

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 124 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Frederick Douglass was an amazing oralist and writer. In the 'Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass,' he brought this story to life. Every emotion that he felt, you feel. When slaves were killed by their overseers, his narration makes you feel as if you were right there with the same suspense and horror the other slaves felt. When he was a young boy and watched the barbaric beating of his aunt Hester, his details were so vivid. And, when he stated 'I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet,' I wanted to be in that closet hiding with him. The articulation that he possesses is amazing. The fact that this story was written by a former slave, would allow you the impression that it would not be easy to decipher. This is not the case at all. His verbage was clear and easy to follow. This story was truly inspirational!
JoannaPA More than 1 year ago
Over the years many times I have heard reference to this book but had never read it. I picked it up out of curiosity and to be honest because it was on the bargain table, but this small book of the slave story and later writings, speeches and lectures of Mr. Frederick Douglass are a real treasure and a must read. His words and life cut to the heart as you hear him tell what he experienced as a man held in bondage. The terror, fear and brutal cruelty of the times and the daily suffering of slaves, men, women and children,is sad,unbelievable, but true. It also sheds a light on the attitudes and thinking of slave owners. Learning to read was the spark in young Frederick that set him on his long and hard path to freedom.I found it interesting to read about the different people and chance encounters that brought him to a free state and eventually to be able to speak so strongly and beautifully against slavery as an evil against God and against our fellow human beings. This narritive is a powerful and thought provoking read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book felt as cold water on my face. It made me aware of the profound impact of slavery in all the entities that were part of it. Slaves and masters became victims of the same pest. Through the chapters of this book we able to observe the mental deformation that slavery causes in slaveholders. Using very clear and full of emotions narrative, Frederick Douglas allow us to share, in some way, his journey towards freedom. Moreover, he also succeeds in communicating the greatness of his spirit, determination and faith. I truly recommend this book to everyone that wants to increase awareness in how we become blind to injustice and suffering.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When i was assigned to read this for history my first thought was: ughh this is gonna make me fall asleep like the other books i have been forced to read BUT this actually turned out to be a good book I was appalled by the abuse that Frederick Doughlass had to go through as a slave and it is very interesting how he vividly remembers his time in bondage If you ever have the urge to read a book about the harsh realities of slavery, definately read this book
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Well written, and informative--I give this book a thumbs up.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a jaw dropping stpry that displays a great picture in your head. I thought that Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was a very informational book. It showed how rough it was in the 1800¿s. Frederick Douglass struggled through watching and receiving many beatings. His masters were treating him awful and he couldn¿t do much to anything about it. As the story goes on Frederick Douglass gets sent around to differnt farms to work. At all of the farms he encounters at least one enemy. Overall ths stroy is full of infomation and is very powerful
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading sections of Douglass' narrative gave me chills and made me think about the way African Americans were treated by white masters. This book gave me ideas of the hardships the African Americans faced when shipped from town to town and master to master. The words in Douglass' speech at the anti-slavery convention show his intelligence and views of being an Abolitionist. I recommend this book to any person willing or wanting to learn about slavery of African Americans in the 19th century.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Part of my reading curriculum for my Oral Communications class, I loved it so much I had everyone in my family read it!!! Definitely recommend to those looking for a good book on slaves and slavery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such an inspirational story. It is well written and easy to read. You can feel the tension, dismay and sorrow as Mr. Douglas narrates the different things that he had to go through. His story show how faith, courage and determination made him a victor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is definitely a must read book. I would recommend that every one, no matter what their race may be, should read this book. I found this book to be eye opening and heart wrenching. It really grabs your attention and make you want to read more. This book was written in such a way that I felt like I was being told the story personally instead of just reading it. I found myself rooting for Fredrick Douglass throughout the whole book. I think the part that touched me the most was the fact he never had to opportunity to know his mother. Me being a mother, I felt my my eyes water reading that. Frederick Douglass overcame so much in his life. He went from being a slave that did not know how to read or write to a free person that was (and still is) a much respected abolitionist. The story of his life is nothing short of amazing. I am really glad that I had to opportunity to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This narrative delivers a recondite and clear perspective on the obstacles that surround a person being a slave. Frederick Douglass certainly had his finger on the pulse of the time. Great narrative!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Module II ¿ Douglass Book Review Brilliant!! Heart breaking and unbelievably inspiring. Amazingly well written and easy to read. I was impressed with how quickly I was able to read Douglass¿s story. I also thought the narrative was a great proponent for literacy. It really portrays how reading can be the key to knowledge and independence. It was a testimony to the innate intelligence of the human spirit. I was greatly moved by the passage when Douglass says that he would rather be called egotistical by others than to deny the miracle that says that happened in his life. Through all sorts of adversity his spirit stayed alive and true to what he knew to be a real life although he had never experienced himself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The true-life writing of Frederick Douglas is exceptional. The memoirs of his youth into adulthood as a slave give the reader a descriptive outlook of his life experience. As you read the account of his life you can almost play it scene by scene. The story intrigues you. He would stop at nothing until he became his ¿own master¿. His life is a testament of his bravery, determination and thirst for knowledge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this piece of literature. It was well witten and vivid. I could see what is going on and I can feel the writers emotions. I recommend this book if you are into the history of slavery and African American literature.