Frederick Douglass: Elements of Douglas’ Abolitionist Argument
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass gives a first person perspective on the life of a slave laborer in both the rural south and the city. Frederick Douglass, having educated himself against terrible odds, was able to read and think endlessly about the evils of slavery and the reasons for its abolishment. The primary reason for his disgust with slavery was its effect of dehumanizing the slaves, as well as their masters.
Throughout his autobiography Frederick Douglass talks of the many ways a slave and master would be corrupted by the labor system that was so deeply entrenched in the south as a result of the cotton gin, the resulting demand in cotton, and other such labor-intensive crops. The master justified his actions through a self-serving religion and a conscience belief that slaves were meant to be in their place. However, Frederick Douglass noticed that in order to maintain the slaves belief in this system the master had to resort to trickery and the dissolution of a slaves body and mind.
According to Douglass, the treatment of a slave was worse than that of an animal. Not only was he valued as an animal, fed like an animal, and beaten like an animal, but also a slave was reduced to an animal when he was as much a man as his keeper. The mental faculty a slave had was diminished through the forbidden nature of reading and learning, as well as the constant drunkenness imposed on the slaves during holidays. As Douglass says, were it not for those holidays the slaves would have been impossible to keep.
Frederick Douglass had moved into a new mistresses home who had never known of slavery, but he saw her corrupted by it soon enough. While she had initially taught him to read, fed him well, and looked upon him like an equal human being, she eventually forbade him from reading and whipped him at her husband’s request. The kind woman he had known became inhumane and degrading because that was required to maintain the unwarranted power over slaves.
As time progressed Henry also thought of the injustice in working and paying the wages he had earned to a master who had no entitlement to them whatsoever. In slavery he had been unable to question anything of his masters doing. He was unable to have rage, sadness, or even...
It was too late. The little boy had been given a peek into the transformative world of words and was desperate to learn. He did so by bartering pieces of bread – he had free access to it; in Baltimore, the urban codes of slavery were less harsh than in rural Maryland – for lessons in literacy. His teachers were white neighborhood kids, who could read and write but had no food. "This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge," Douglass wrote in one of the most moving lines in Narrative .