Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

5. Did Southerners treat their slaves well? They loved to sing. What was Douglass’ perception about the songs?

Frederick Douglass

Narratives of a Slave

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Um, no they didn't generally treat their slaves well.

The songs Douglass discusses represent a world quite distant from a Northern abolitionist audience while still close to a former slave. They themselves are a form of signification which implicitly excludes whites; "This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves" (57, chapt. 2). Gates explains that the singers "were literally defining themselves in language, just as did Douglass" (Gates 67). The signification and exclusiveness inherent in the songs and present in the Narrative in the context of these songs help delineate a type of defining language which is free from obedience or allegiance to "white" language.