Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slaveby Frederick Douglass
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… See more details below
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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 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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