It is known that the theme of inequality has been discussed by a great number of writers in the United States. However, Frederick Douglass is one of those writers who were not only the witnesses of inequalities, but who themselves had a lot of sufferings in their lives as slaves. In his autobiography book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, the author tries to prove the fact that all African American slaves are just human beings as well as the whites who, in most cases, do not want to accept the slaves as human beings. Frederick Douglass writes about his life as a slave on several different plantations and in a private home in Baltimore. The readers study the process of the author’s character formation when uneducated and oppressed slave becomes effective orator and abolitionist.
Although Frederick Douglass lived in many different places as a slave, his life in Baltimore greatly influenced his world outlook. In Baltimore, the young man realized that the whites kept black slaves uneducated in order to maintain power over them and to make them obey. Frederick Douglass set the major goal in his life – to educate himself and to escape from slavery.
In the first chapters of his autobiography book, Frederick Douglass tells the readers about his young years. It is known that the boy’s mother was a slave, but his father was a slave owner Captain Anthony who had many slaves and several plantations where his slaves worked. However, Frederick was treated ill. He had to work hard and suffered from injustices and inequalities more than other slaves. Moreover, he “witnessed the bloody transactions” on the plantations and knew that the slaves were always kept in fear. In their songs, the slaves represented “the sorrows of their hearts”. (Douglass 14)
Frederick Douglass is sure that his life changed when he moved to Baltimore because he changed his understanding of the word “slavery” and learned the main reasons of slavery. Moreover, he believes that if he had not been moved to the private home in Baltimore, he would have remained a simple slave till his dying day. Frederick hopes to change his life for a better one in the future because he knows the main reason of slavery. In Baltimore, Douglass hears a conversation between his masters Hugh and Sophia Auld and understands that whites maintain power over their black slaves by keeping them uneducated. Mr. Auld said to his wife, “if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy”. (Douglass 33)
Moreover, Mr. Auld states that if slaves could read the Bible they would fight against slavery. Douglass realizes that education plays an important role in the life of a slave because it can help to escape from slavery. Frederick makes up his mind to learn reading and writing. These new skills allow him to understand the meaning of the word “abolition” and to set the goal to escape to the North. He says, “From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom”. (Douglass 34)
One more important thing that helped Frederick Douglass to develop his anti-slavery ideas was the book called The Columbian Orator which had a dialogue between the master and the slave. Frederick read this book at the age of twelve and used the ideas of this book in order “to utter his thoughts and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery”. (Douglass 40) Douglass tries to learn more about abolition and listens to everyone who discusses slavery.
Frederick used different methods to learn reading and writing. He watched how the ship carpenters wrote the letters and learned to write too. He practiced writing letters on the pavement, fences and brick walls. He had a great desire to become educated. Frederick even organized contests with local children in order to learn who could write better. He copied words from the dictionary. He writes, “after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write”. (Douglass 44)
One more life experience that played an important role in the process of Frederick’s character formation is his life on the farm of Mr. Covey, a rather cruel man who used whip in order to make his slaves obey. Douglass writes that he lived on Mr. Covey’s farm for about a year, but “during the first six months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping him”. Moreover, the slave owner did not give enough time to his slaves to have their meals. Douglass writes, ”We were often less than five minutes taking our meals”. (Douglass 60) Once, Douglass even decided to escape from Covey’s farm. He returned to Mr. Auld and told about violence of Mr. Covey, but he was made to return to Mr. Covey’s farm the next morning. The battle of Frederick Douglass with Mr. Covey became “a turning point in his career as a slave”. Frederick decided to stop violent actions of Mr. Covey and used the root in order to frighten him. Although the slave owner tried to whip Frederick, the young man won the battle. The author says that this battle “rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free”. (Douglass 72) Frederick Douglas sets the goal to escapee from slavery and he achieves this goal due to his strong character, self-confidence and strength of will.
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that Frederick Douglass’ autobiography is an important tool which helps to understand the position of the slaves in the society of those days. The author gives an opportunity to understand the major reasons which prevent slaves to be free and independent. The idea of education that helps to get freedom is one of the main themes in the book. The young boy sets the goal to learn read and write in order to become free, and he successfully achieves this goal and later, becomes a well-known orator, writer and abolitionist.
Douglass, F. (1845) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston. PUBLISHED AT THE ANTI-SLAVERY OFFICE, No. 25 CORNHILL. Available from:<http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/douglass/douglass.html#douglass117>