Bystander effect

History Essay on Fredrick Douglas Narrative on Slavery

Fredrick Douglas Narrative on Slavery


Slavery is an organized structure where slaves as treated as property for exchange with money. In most cases, those commonly referred to as slaves are subjected to heavy work against their free will (Brewton, 2005, p. 59). Slaves are also held captive from birth and are forced to work for the rest of their lives without pay. In the past years, slavery was of great value and it was widely practiced especially early 19th century.

The concept of slavery during the 19th century was an incredible labor force source for the global economy. According to Brewton (2005, p. 62), slaves were very instrumental in ancient kingdoms especially for the growth of the kingdoms because they were used as a basis of free workforce. Slaves also assumed difficult task of running different kingdom projects.

Studies reveal that, because of slave trade many cities emerged and it allowed for transfer of millions of slaves from one region, continent and nation to the other. Most of them were obtained from Africa as they were captured or lured and shipped overseas to work in foreign countries. Even though slave trade was widely recognized, practiced and accepted in many African societies, it has in the recent past been banned in almost all communities.

Slavery is currently considered a very illegal practice across the globe even though there are still more than 30million slaves around the world today serving their masters.

Fredrick Douglas slave narrative

Fredrick Douglas was born in 1818, in Maryland, where his mother worked on large plantations. He was an African-American writer and well renowned opponent that participated in the anti-slavery movement initiated immediately after he escaped from slavery (Frederick, 1995, p, 99).

The writer is one of the most celebrated and influential authors concerned about African literary traditions. He was written various autobiographies and even so, his slavery narrative is the most popular and widely read North American Slave Narrative. Fredrick Douglas begins his narrative with a description of scant details he understands about himself.

He could tell little about his mother but he understood clearly that he was separated from her at a tender age. The writer also explains how he saw a white man often whipping his aunt and he thought the man was his father. This enables us to understand how slavery masters employed cruelty as a way of maintaining slavery institution.

While the kids were often at a very tender age separated from their parents, they were raised as slaveholders’ own children. Each of the parents would then be exposed to exploitative experiences including undertaking of difficult tasks and whipping (Frederick, 1962, p. 200). This depicts how slavers could instill fear on slaves to maintain their authority over them.

The fact that children were separated from their parents and they could not see them being whipped depicts how the kids grew under the yoke of slavery as opposed to seeing themselves as senior citizens despite the fact that they grow in the houses of their masters. Fredrick Douglas also further explains how he was taken to Baltimore, an event he considers to be very significant as it salvaged him from slavery for the rest of his life (Frederick, 1995, p. 101).

Even though he also explains how the kindness of his mistress kindled a light for his bright future, he gives clear details of her drastic change including his master objections, thus, violating this hope. He also clarifies how he started learning letters of the alphabet from his mistress even though his master objected the move on claims that a slave should not learn how to write and read because, then, he would not live as a slave.

This further explains how slaves were denied their rights by their masters to gain knowledge because they believed slaves would be unmanageable, and in the end, violating the institution of slavery. While Fredrick from his master’s objections understands the significance of reading and writing, he decides to start to learn ways of attaining the skills on his own. He however explains how the skills were used against him. This further includes coercion by his master to conquer abilities of slaves by violating their instructions and it would in the end, upheaval against the slavers.

When his master dies at one point, his property which includes slaves is divided amongst his children. This enables us to comprehend the fact that inheritance was used by slavers as a tactic to grow the chain of slavery. Furthermore, his narrative portrays the fact that humans through trade could be enslaved and they could be purchased from designated slave or trade centers.

Such tactics however exposed slaves to severe violence as their masters treated them with a lot of cruelty based on the fact that they had been purchased (Brewton, 2005, p. 66). Fredrick’s story also enables us to understand different strategies used by slaves to avoid slave trade. He therefore explains their persistent desire to learn how to read and write enabled him to grasp the meaning of the word obliteration. This move not only helps him to understand how can revolt against his boss but it also triggered an idea on how to make an escape to the north.

This realization also indicates how slaves utilized education to escape enslavement because they could understand different things such as the rule of law, direction and different places in the neighborhood where slavery was not allowed. His narrative further explains his regrets of not escaping when he was moved from Baltimore and later on when his master dies.

His reading ability also enables the author to understand the reality of his expedition between the houses of his owner as it takes place in North-Easterly direction and he also perceived the information to be of great significance (Frederick, 1962, p. 206). His interpretation on how could be advanced to other slavers further enables us to understand how the leasehold could be employed to enslave other people.

It is therefore obvious that slaves were denied food as a way of keeping them within the slave institution. He also narrates how the fact that he could be rented to another slaver for one year excited him because he would be fed. His narrative further explains that slaves used songs as a scheme through which, they could avoid being enslaved. He also dwells on the question of how slaves could sing spontaneous, sad and wild songs on their way to farm plantations.

The author also explains that he could not understand the songs as he still served as a slave because they sounded cheerful. Later on, he came to realize the coined meaning of the songs including bitter expressions of their pain and suffering as they served their masters. His narrative also enables us to gain more knowledge on how writers exposed injustices and different forms of evils that the slaves faced.

It also portrays the fact that many authors use their personal experiences to describe severe circumstances the slaves were exposed to. Fredrick Douglas also uses his own experience to reveal the mistreatment he underwent under his master where he could be severely whipped even when working in the field making him to collapse. The authors could also use the experiences of other people to express how slavers unjustly mishandled slaves.

Fredrick also uses the example of his aunt to reveal how salves could be beaten often even in the midst of their duties as assigned (Frederick, 1995, p. 107).


While slavery is a very crucial notion that has over the years assumed a central position in many academic fields, Fredrick Douglas narrative on slavery plays a significant role in understand how the trade affected the lives of slaves. The writer through his story enables us to understand methods used by slavers on the slaves including cruelty, coercion and fear to keep the slavery institution.

Additionally, the masters could partially deny food, whip and kill slaves to suppress their capacity to rebel against their authority, leading to maintenance of slavery. Even so, the underprivileged adopted different strategies including use of song, education and elopement to avoid slavery.

Slaver masters also employed different approaches including coercion, inheritance, trade and leasehold to yoke other people.




Brewton, V. (2005). Bold Defiance took Its Place Respect and Self- Making in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, The Mississippi Quarterly, 58 (3), 50-80.

Frederick, D. (1962). Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History. New York: Collier Books.

Frederick, D. (1995). Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass. New York: Dover.

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