Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

what does douglass seem to be saying about slavery?


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Slavery is the big theme in Douglass's Narrative, since he wrote his book to convince people that slavery was wrong. You might call the book anti-slavery propaganda, but we don't think Douglass would see anything wrong with that: for him, the important thing was that everything he said about slavery was true. And since he had plenty to say on the subject, the book remains one of most important historical documents from that period, showing us the kinds of lives that American slaves like Douglass lived.


Douglass’s Narrative shows how white slaveholders perpetuate slavery by keeping their slaves ignorant. At the time Douglass was writing, many people believed that slavery was a natural state of being. They believed that blacks were inherently incapable of participating in civil society and thus should be kept as workers for whites. The Narrative explains the strategies and procedures by which whites gain and keep power over blacks from their birth onward. Slave owners keep slaves ignorant of basic facts about themselves, such as their birth date or their paternity. This enforced ignorance robs children of their natural sense of individual identity. As slave children grow older, slave owners prevent them from learning how to read and write, as literacy would give them a sense of self‑sufficiency and capability. Slaveholders understand that literacy would lead slaves to question the right of whites to keep slaves. Finally, by keeping slaves illiterate, Southern slaveholders maintain control over what the rest of America knows about slavery. If slaves cannot write, their side of the slavery story cannot be told. Wendell Phillips makes this point in his prefatory letter to the Narrative.


he was totally against it