Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

1031 words - 4 pages

Slavery had been established in American history from the time of European settlement in the colonies (1619) until the Thirteenth Amendment officially ended the practice. During that time, a slave was bound to endure hard labor and often led a life in constant fear of his master. Frederick Douglass, in his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, rises against the injustices done to his people by presenting insight into the power imbalance between slaves and their holders. Douglass asserts throughout his account that the “poison of irresponsible power” the masters maintain has a detrimental and dehumanizing effect on their moral behavior (39). Douglass addresses the barbarity that overcomes the slaveholder in a testimony against slavery and discusses the negative results through deep characterization, emotional scenes, and plausible evidence.
With the use of character development, Douglass retains an important component in his argument by illustrating the alteration of Sophia Auld whose “kindest heart turned…into that of a demon”(39). He states that a human being having control of another has a soul-killing effect on his moral righteousness and results in the loss of innocence. At first Douglass writes, “The meanest slave was put fully at ease in her presence, and none left without feeling better for not having seen her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music”(39). Douglass’s initial description fixes his argument that the slaveholder is not necessarily evil. His choice of words reveals his complete astonishment of her gentleness that he had never experienced before. However, Douglass’s tone appears to be disturbed of her behavior for she is “unlike any other white woman he had ever seen”(39). Later, however, he indicates, “That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon”(39). By showing the deep contrast in diction, Douglass succeeds in his explanation that the tradition of slaveholding hardens a slaveholder. This learning alerts the audience and makes them understand the destructive effects of slave bondage.
From the start of the narrative, Douglass appeals to the emotions by giving vivid descriptions of the fiendish barbarity that overcomes the masters through the custom of slaveholding. He recounts, “I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom [Captain Anthony] used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood”(18). This horrible exhibition creates emotional response by presenting how a man hardened by slaveholding behaves(18). This is the first time Douglass confronts brutality so he is terrified to the point that he does not know how to react. The profanity that overcomes the master when using...

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