Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Quotes Analysis

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

“They say the fathers, in 1776, signed the Declaration of Independence with the halter about their necks. You, too, publish your declaration of freedom with danger compassing you around. In all the broad lands which the Constitution of the United States overshadows, there is no single spot,–however narrow or desolate,–where a fugitive slave can plant himself and say, ‘I am safe’ ” (Preface, xvi).

In his letter to Douglass, Wendell Phillips uses comparison to describe to the reader Douglass’ unease as a black man, even after he was granted freedom. Although Douglass was “free”, he knew that writing a narrative about his experiences would put him at risk of re-capture. He lived in fear of the thought that he could be kidnapped, taken to the South, and enslaved once again. Phillips compares Douglass to the founding fathers and Douglass’ narrative to the Declaration of Independence. By doing so, Phillips alludes to the freedom and American privilege promised in the Declaration of Independence and notes that it is not blind to race and color and does not benefit black men, whether they are slaves or freed.

“The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege” (Chapter 1, Page 1).

With this quote, Douglass introduces a prominent theme throughout the novel:inequality. He emphasizes the fact that as a child he was closed off to important parts of his identity, like his age. By being held from this common knowledge, it is clear that not only were African Americans viewed as unequal due to the color of their skin, but they were purposely brought up in ignorance making the divide between whites and blacks even greater. Furthermore, by explicitly drawing the line between white and black children​, Douglass proves that even as a child, being raised in oblivion does not always blind one from what they are being deprived of. He refuses to accept the indiscrepancies he’s presented with; instead he is conscious of the inequality he experiences and eventually works to fight against it.

“Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness” (Chapter 7, Page 32).

In this quote Douglass describes his slave master’s wife, Mrs. Auld. He contrasts her disposition before her involvement in slavery with the shift in her characteristics afterwards. He implicitly compares Mrs. Auld to a slave by tracking her gradual transformation from a human to an animal. Douglass uses powerful diction by choosing words like “pious”, “warm”, and “tender-hearted” to emphasize the kindness that the master’s wife once represented. Douglass’ interpretation of Mrs. Auld’s transformation is essentially a comment on human nature; once a human being is put in a position of superiority, he or she will completely embody the role of a master. The master will become drunk with control and will forget how to treat their subjects with respect and dignity. Once Mrs. Auld took on the role of slave owner, she could no longer express sympathy for the less-fortunate. Instead, her “tender heart” turned to “stone”, she became as brutal as a “tiger” and was stripped of her “heavenly qualities.” Douglass demonstrates that slavery does not result in psychological impacts on only the slaves, but also produces significant and negative impacts on slave masters as well.

“I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man” (Chapter 10, Page 85).

Throughout his narrative, ​Douglass stresses that manipulation is a main tactic used to preserve slavery, for unless a human being is essentially pushed to the edge of their sanity, he or she would not be willing to act as a slave. Owners consciously rob their slaves of basic knowledge and brainwash them into believing whole-heartedly whatever they are told by their masters, for example, “that slavery is right”. Douglass finds that by preventing slaves from developing the ability to reason, a slave will slowly lose the will and desire to be free. Freedom becomes an incomprehensible concept all together. Douglass uses repetition to emphasize that “it is necessary” to promote thoughtlessness and immorality.​ By doing so, it is made evident that owners were required to strip slaves of all their intellectual capabilities. Just as slaves were trained to view their enslavement as an ordinary part of life, owners were trained on the most effective methods to preserve that belief.

“I was somewhat unmanageable when I first went there, but a few months of this discipline tamed me. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!” (Chapter 10, Page 55).

Given Douglass’ powerful presence and his ability to overcome the greatest of hardships, it was interesting to come across a quote in which he expressed vulnerability amidst uncomfortable and difficult circumstances. Douglass identifies himself as one of many “unmanageable” slaves who were sent to Mr. Covey, a poor farmer who was known for domesticating problem slaves over the course of a year. Douglass utilizes diction, using words like “tamed” to teach the audience that the feeling of “breaking” or being “broken” does not always encompass physical abuse, but mental and emotional trauma as well. Covey kills Douglass’ spirit by treating him like an animal, as if he were a beast to be tamed. He eventually eliminates every last human characteristic that made Douglass the man he was by training him to act as thoughtlessly and mindlessly as a brute in the fields. In this chapter of his life Douglass had accepted defeat and Covey had succeeded in redefining a man as an animal.

​“A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would ​spoil​ the best nigger in the world” (Chapter 6, Page 29).

Douglass quotes Hugh Auld, one of his former masters. Hugh catches his wife, Sophia, teaching Douglass to write. He’s furious and commands her to stop, inadvertently teaching Douglass that illiteracy was a necessary trait for slaves to possess. If a slave was educated and able to read and write he would realize the truth about slavery: it was absolutely barbaric. Slaves would no longer feel even minimally content leading their lives as animals or property, they would want rights. Mr. Auld believed that as long as a slave was living in ignorance he would refrain from escaping or rebelling; on the other hand, learning would “​spoil ​” a slave because he would no longer feel the urge to listen to his master. This quote reflects the theme knowledge is power, for even the masters knew that once educated, African Americans would be as equally capable as whites.

“Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters. They had been shut up in mental darkness” (Chapter 10, Page 71).

Douglass viewed education as essential and influential in one’s life. Therefore, the realization that illiteracy was the backbone of slavery caused Douglass to wonder if overcoming the ignorance slaves were tricked into would gradually end slavery. Consequently, Douglass began to run a small school, teaching slaves to read and write, introducing them to a world they never knew existed. Taking on this task demonstrated to Douglass that the slaves had been blocked from learning for so long that they were “starved”, hungry for knowledge. Masters had blinded their slaves from so much that they were unaware of what they would retain from attending Douglass’ school; however, they showed up regardless. The presence of the slaves at school proved to Douglass that they were willing put themselves in danger, risk their lives, for the sake of earning an education. It is human nature to strive for knowledge, especially when deprived from it for so long.This helped me realize that I take my education for granted. Each time I complain about completing assignments for school I should feel grateful for having the opportunity to attend school and to expand my knowledge; opposed to being brought up with a lack of education and living in darkness.

“We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination” (Chapter 8, Page 39).

A consistent theme throughout the narrative is the comparison between slaves and animals. Slaves were both trained to respond to a master’s orders as animals do, but were also priced and purchased like animals. Douglass describes an image of slaves standing in a line, inspected by potential purchasers and put up for sale like cattle and horses. By listing “horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children”, Douglass is coupling each human category with that of an animal. He does this to demonstrate that animals and slaves were, unjustifiably, viewed as equals. Douglass suggests that slavery works to transform people into beasts and dispossesses them of their humanity by convincing them that they are worthless and inhuman. This excerpt highlights for a reader the incessant dehumanization of slaves.

“In coming to a fixed determination to run away, we did more than Patrick Henry, when he resolved upon liberty or death. With us it was a doubtful liberty at most, and almost certain death if we failed. For my part, I should prefer death to hopeless bondage”(Chapter 10, Page 74).

In this quote, Douglass alludes to Patrick Henry, a founding father who is well-renowned for his words, ​’Give me liberty or give me death”. This was not the first instance in which Patrick Henry was brought up in this novel; in the preface Douglass and Henry were compared by Garrison. However, Douglass establishes a different connection; by referring to Henry he insinuates that the bravery and drive that slaves hold is greater than that of a well-known, celebrated member of American history. This notion is exceedingly significant because it proves to the reader that slaves were overlooked, put to shame, and treated worthlessly when in reality they were capable of possessing more profound qualities than men who are constantly commemorated.


Cite this paper

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Quotes Analysis. (2021, Oct 05). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass-quotes-analysis/

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out