Monday, 11 August 2014

Review of "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

“At that time, the slightest manifestation of humanity toward a coloured person was denounced as abolitionism, and that name subjected its bearer to frightful liabilities”

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is his attempt to reveal the injustices of slavery in order to work towards abolitionism. The very existence of this narrative is a testament to his bravery and hard-working spirit.
This text tracks the story of Douglass’ escape from his hellish treatment as a slave. It includes details of all of the various slaveholders who wrongfully imprisoned him in order to shame them. Initially Douglass accepted that he was going to spend his life as a slave, however, the help of a kind mistress sparked his interest in words and education. He soon began to seek help from free white boys in order to develop his understanding of the alphabet and later reading itself. This is eventually what paved his way to freedom. Without this intellectual hope Douglass himself admits that he would have been forced to the despair which many of his fellow men and women in bondage were consumed by. Alongside his attempts to learn however came many great risks: slaveholders feared that if their slaves learnt to read they would become empowered and thus liable to rebel and riot.
If any of you read last week’s review of Twelve Years A Slave ( then you’ll see that I thought that had a different emphasis on the traumatic effects of slavery. Solomon Northup heavily focused on the physical and emotional implications on himself and the people he was held with. In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave however, Douglass’ work is more directed towards exposing the hypocrisy and corruption of American slaveholders who believed in their Christian vocation to slaveholding. Many of the slave holders in the South whom Douglass was unfortunate enough to have to call “master” insisted that they were good Christians. As a result of this, they often quoted scripture whilst whipping their slaves.
This hypocrisy really hit home when I read this text as the recent crises in the Middle East show that people have not yet learnt that religion is not an excuse for persecution. Religion should discourage hatred, prejudice and torture, rather than encourage people to commit it. Frederick Douglass realised that Christianity was often (although not exclusively) a front for this. Him and his fellow bondmen were prohibited from attending Church and learning how to read scripture, to the extent that the Sunday school they created was punishable by death.

What did you think of the text when you read it? 

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