Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave is a must read for those who wish to begin to understand or contemplate the life of a slave in the 18th Century Americas. Born around 1817/1818 Frederick Douglass was himself enslaved for twenty years.
Whilst conditions varied somewhat throughout the southern states of America, the basic rhetoric was the same. The oppressed and the oppressor, the enslaved and the oppressor. In this autobiography which covers this period of his life Douglass exudes an eloquence, which he became very well known for, that puts into perspective the harsh conditions, the mental state of the average slave as well as the mental state of the oppressors. Many of the enslaved believed that whatever their status, that was an acceptable status quo with no hope of anything else. He explains how the alternative for many, who were deliberately kept in ignorance through lack of even the basic reading skills, had no one to turn to but the oppressor and that wasn’t something that most were willing to challenge.
He brings to light the understanding behind the ‘every man for himself’ syndrome which completely launders any romantic portrayals of good and bad masters. Yet, there are many traits one can recognise today in his allusions to friendships and interactions between and amongst the slaves themselves. His own experiences in his young life, sometimes very harsh at other times just about bearable clarifies that although he was moved around from plantation to other places of work including being sent off for a year to be ‘broken in’ gives us an understanding and stands as a testimony as to how it was for millions of others who would have had to withstand the cruelest and harshest of treatment their whole lives with no hope of reprieve.
He clarifies the role religion had to play which continues to this day, including the interpretation of the bible to one’s own advantage to suit one’s situation, something most people today have witnessed in one form or other – a difficult subject to elucidate at the best of times.
Written in time, the book draws one into the very heart of the moment, one example being the way he refuses to elaborate on certain issues to protect those still in bondage and his friends after he makes his escape. The other interesting fact is the way readers’ interpret the book today depending on which side of the fence they are sitting.
Read more about Frederick Douglass in Editions Lifestyle 2019 Magazine here: