Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Summary

About the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

“The narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas” is a memorandum and a treatise on the abolition in 1845. It was written by a former slave and world-famous orator Frederick Douglas.

The Plot of the Narrative

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery circa in 1817 or 1818. Like many other slaves, he does not remember his date of birth. He is separated from his mother, soon after he is born like many other slaves. His father is most likely their white master, Captain Anthony. His father owns hundreds of slaves, who call his large, central plantation the “Great House Farm.” It is really hard for slaves to work on such plantations. Cruel punishment awaits those who violate the rules and those who do not violate them. The life of Douglas on this plantation is much better than that of other slaves. When he was a child, he served in a household. At the age of 7, he travels to Baltimore to Anthony Hugh Aulda, where his life becomes even freer.

Hugh's wife, Sophia Auld never had slaves before and was very kind to Douglas. She taught him to read until her husband forbade it. She obeys her husband and soon perceives Douglas as a slave. But Douglas still loves Baltimore and continues to learn to read. As he learns to read and write, Douglas realizes the viciousness of slavery and the existence of an abolitionist or anti-war movement. In the end, he decides to escape to the North. Finally, at the age of twenty, he manages to escape to New York. Here he married a free black woman from Baltimore named Anna Murray. In the early 1840s, Douglas made his first steps toward oratory. He accepts the offer to be an abolitionist speaker for the American Society for the Struggle against Slavery.

The Main Characters of This Narrative

  • Frederick Douglass: Douglas is the author and protagonist of the narrative. He was born a slave in Maryland. His mother was a woman named Harriet Bailey. His father was an unknown white man, who, most likely, was his master.
  • Harriet Bailey: Douglas's mother, he knows little about her, since then she was sold.
  • Captain Anthony: This man was the first owner of Douglas. Douglas suggests that he can be his father. Anthony works as Lloyd's manager and the overseers on the plantations. He is a very cruel man. He deals physical damage to the slaves. He was given the nickname "captain" because he once piloted ships.
  • Colonel Lloyd: Lloyd was reportedly the richest slaveholder in Talbot County, Maryland.
  • Hugh Auld: He lives in Baltimore with his wife, Sophia Auld. Hugh does not allow his wife to teach Douglas to read and write. This, in turn, impresses Douglas with the importance of educating himself.
  • Edward Covey: A farmer who was cruel to disobedient slaves. He cannot afford to own many slaves, so other masters will lease his slaves in exchange for the fact that he will punish them.
  • Sandy Jenkins: The slave who works with Douglas. He briefly takes Douglas when Douglas escapes from the Covey farm. Sandy also gives Douglas a special root, which, in his superstitious opinion, will protect Douglas from harming his master.
  • Captain Thomas Auld: Thomas is a very cruel master. Douglas lives with him after his first stay in Baltimore. Thomas becomes deeply religious, while Douglas works for him, but this only makes him a more violent master.
  • Betsy Bailey: She is the grandmother of Douglas. Betsy raised Douglas because his mother was sold out. She had been a slave to Captain Anthony and his family for all her life.

Analysis and Context of the Frederick Douglas Narration

Douglas was one of the few black men hired mostly by the white society, and the leaders of society, including Garrison, often condescendingly insisted that Douglas simply connects the "facts" of his experience and leaves philosophy, rhetoric and convincing arguments to others. In 1845 he published his narrative. The Narrative states that Douglas is his only author, and he contains two forewords from Harrison and another abolitionist Wendell Phillips to confirm this fact. The use of the true names of people and places by Douglas further silenced critics who questioned the truthfulness of his history and the status of the former slave. In addition, narrative undertook to be not only a personal narrative about Douglas's experience as a slave but also an eloquent anti-pawn. With the help of Narration, Douglas demonstrated his ability to be not only the narrator of his story but also its interpreter.

Significant Symbols for Frederic Douglas

  • White-sailed ships: White ships appear as a vision for Douglas. He perceives them as a sign or message about his demoralized state. Their white sails, he associates with angels and freedom.
  • Sandy’s root: Sandy Jenkins offers Douglas a root of the forest with magical qualities that help protect slaves from whipping. The root acts as a symbol of the traditional African approach to religion and belief.
  • The Columbian Orator: a symbol of human rights, eloquence, and articulation.

The “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas” Main Idea

Douglas's narration shows how white slaveholders perpetuate slavery, keeping their slaves ignorant. At the time when Douglas wrote, many people believed that slavery was a common occurrence. People believed that blacks by their nature are incapable of participating in civil society and therefore must be workers for whites. The narrative explains the strategies and procedures by which White gets and retains power over the blacks from his birth. Slaves did not even know the basic facts about themselves, such as the date of their birth or their paternity. They rarely knew their family or at any time could be separated from them. They were constantly short of sleep, food, water, and clothing. They were beaten mercilessly and even killed. Women were often raped and they had to give birth to a child from their owner. As slave children grow older, slave owners do not allow them to learn to read and write, as literacy will give them a sense of self-sufficiency and opportunities. The subordinates understand that literacy will lead to slaves questioning the right of whites to hold slaves. Finally, while keeping slavery illiterate, southern slave owners maintain control over what the rest of America knows about slavery. If slaves cannot write, their story of slavery cannot be said.

The Possible Topics for Your Essay

There is no doubt that if you are a student, then you will need to write an essay on the topic the “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas”! Here you can find a couple of ideas for writing your essay.

  • Discuss what is needed for the slave to become a free man?
  • Describe the meaning of freedom. Is this something more than being legally free?
  • Why are the USA positions as “free land” if it suffers from slavery? What does it mean to be an American slave?
  • What did you learn from the story of Douglas?
  • Why do you think education is so important to Douglas? Why did he have a craving for education?
  • Describe all the different ways in which Douglas expresses the horrors of slavery?