Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Chapter 2: Comment on Douglass

Comment on Douglass's including the information about slave spirituals. How do the songs belie their surface meaning? How did they affect Douglass and what is their relationship to his "first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery?"

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Douglass wrote of the haunting melodies of the slaves as they traversed the forests and worked the fields. He negated a persistent rumor amongst slaveholders and southerners by explaining that slaves did not sing because they were happy and content; rather, they sang to give mournful utterance to the deepest anguish of their souls. Each "tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains" (20). Douglass did not fully understand the depth of meaning when he heard these songs as a child, but as he grew older he began to detect within them "the tale of woe" and the "dehumanizing character of slavery" (20).