I deem it necessary for this analysis to focus on the Narrative of Frederick Douglass by Himself, which heightens the matter of violence committed against enslaved Americans. The Narrative of Frederick Douglass by Himself is written in the first person, authenticating that Douglass was the author. Douglass’s volumes aid in determining how violence affected enslaved people and how enslaved people dealt with it. As such, the statement of importance aims to study the literature of Fredrick Douglass, thus revealing that violence is a considerable aspect, in that after demeaning the slaves, they will endure, in turn, when the demeaned group cannot bare it anymore, they might seek resistance as they pursue liberation. This research paper, therefore, intends to analyze how violence and literacy can be used as tools for liberation in cases of dreadful oppression.
The Narrative of Frederick Douglass by Himself vividly describes how the colored slaves were handled by their masters with brutality and no dignity. Douglass makes the reader understand what was involved in the slave trade and that Blacks were the main victims. The slaves were at the mercy of the white masters in that they were treated like second-class human beings with no rights even to defend themselves upon false allegations by their masters. “To all these complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must never answer a word”(Frederick, 17). There are multiple instances of violence in Fredrick’s Douglass narrative. Douglass was tasked with serving Mr. Covey, who was regarded as a “nigger breaker.” Douglass’s tenure in Covey is seen to be burdensome. Covey repeatedly beats Douglass, as he relates, “I had been at my new home for only a week before Mr. Covey gave me a severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to flow, and leaving ridges as large as my little finger on my flesh” (Douglass, 1030). At this juncture in his life, Douglass depicts his existence as a period during which he was forced to consume the most unpleasant experience of subjugation. This can be seen when Douglas asserted, “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, my desire to read vanished, and the cheerful spark that lingered in my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in on me” (Douglass, 1040).
In response, Covey’s assaults, according to Douglass, converted him from a man into a “brute.” At this point, when Covey tried to tie him up, he retained his firmness and lashed back without fear of repercussions. Douglass responded to Covey’s brutality through violence, notably fighting back, speaking out, or refusing to work. Even though he was aware that violence is immoral, Douglass used resistance as a means of self-defense. Douglass realized that in a world where violent maltreatment of captives existed, one’s literacy voice and violence are a means of overcoming oppression and achieving liberation. It is evident that Douglass carried this lesson by believing that violence can create change when other means fail. It is hereafter appropriate to assert that the readers can witness how “a man was made a slave, and they shall also see how violence can make a man” (Douglass, 1036). As such, we can describe Douglass’s violent fight with Covey as “a glorious resurrection from a tomb of slavery to a heaven of freedom” (Douglass, 1027).
His shattered body only partially reveals his broken spirit. Douglass vows never to think of himself as a slave yet again, despite being struck to a pulp in his final combat with Mr. Covey. He goes on to say, “I now resolved that, however long I might remain a formal slave, the day when I would be a slave, in fact, had passed forever.” (Douglass, 1042). He is not sure of how long he will remain a slave, forced to work on his masters’ farms. However, Mr. Frederick Douglass determines never to feel obligated to go against his principles and values for the sake of serving his master. This statement is, so far, the most vital set of words I have explored in his works. It is the beginning of emancipation for him and, indeed, the end to the tyranny of Covey’s rule. By acknowledging this, Frederick Douglass liberates his thoughts from captivity. Although Douglass’s spirit was shattered, he rediscovers his identity; after four more years as a slave, he becomes a man again (Douglass, 1038). This suggests that his long crushed spirit arose, and regardless of how long he might remain a slave in name, the day had passed when he could be a slave in reality. Douglass’ writings offer light on how violence can bring about change when all other methods fail. Violence served as a gateway to servitude, and now it is sighted to serve as a gateway to liberation.
Further, Frederick Douglass’ literacy is a significant contribution. The ability to read, communicate, and write was a coping mechanism for Douglass, which made him a hero through the use of force, understanding, and intrinsic courage. Literacy is vital because it allowed Douglass to comprehend that it was even difficult to get freedom out of religious convictions; he says that all religious slaveholders were the worst (Douglass, 1043). When Douglass’s master converted to a Methodist, he thought his owner would be more kind and humane, but he became more cruel and hateful. This level of literacy enabled Douglass to realize that nonviolence may never cause slaveholders to treat him better, therefore, getting enough reason and building intrinsic courage, which led to his violent fight with Covey. Frederick Douglass was able to build his ideas of freedom and what it meant to be a slave because of his literacy. Literacy enabled Douglass as a slave, to get a better understanding of his surroundings by means of adding knowledgeable reasoning so as to help achieve racial equality by aiding Blacks to gain a sense of authority and self-respect (Klarman, 2018). The literary works of Frederick Douglass are significant because they show what occurs when any underprivileged grouping fights for racial equality. Douglass felt that reading literacy enabled him to be aware of all the other oppressive aspects of life (Klarman, 2018).
As a person, one has to wonder about the aspects of their lives that capture their imagination to the point of slavery. Often, such aspects are closely linked to actions such as abuse of power, drugs, and relationships. Slavery of mind is greater than slavery of body (Felgar, 25). The slaves’ attempt to be chosen to go to the ‘Great house’ is mental slavery. In so doing, they consider the liberty of serving sophisticated yoke masters as more important than their own dignity. Physical restrictions such as imprisonment and house arrest do not impose significant caveats on the mind. However, one may choose to believe that they are tied by something that is not even a factor to consider (Felgar, 29). It is always important to have a high sense of self-determination and resolve. Nevertheless, when one is shy, of low self-esteem, and unable to control feelings such as anger and fear, they are enslaved in mind. Freedom of form is of little value if the mind is in captivity due to one’s fears and lack of self-control.
Acts of violence are prevalent in the accounts of American slaves. Some slaves would be victorious through resistance, while others would perish due to their masters’ cruelty and intimidation. Slave masters would use brutality to destroy the character of their slaves. Slavery depended on violence to maintain its existence because, through violence, masters maintained control over slaves and continued to exploit them for profit. Violence was used to objectify slaves and make them feel forlorn and despondent; however, some slaves emerged stronger in their quest for freedom by using violence against their slave masters. Slavery does have its roots in the modern age as well. We all fight to be free and make our own choices, but often, we are influenced by factors around us. Our inability to reject any negative form of influence is often the greatest slavery we face. We, at times, struggle to become better at what we do. However, we often do not realize that what we are doing is out of influence and not passion. As a liberal mind, one ought to be very conscious of their environment and always influence it positively. As such, the readings from Frederick Douglass teach us that slavery is more than chains and lashes. It is the inability of the mind to reason independently at all times.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Written by himself.[With] Appendix. 1851.
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895).Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself: Electronic Edition.
Felgar, P. L., et al. Undefined. Praeger: 166 (2019): 32-46.
Klarman, Brian Jacob. Would Frederick Douglass be an Afropessimist?: Re-reading a Slave’s Narrative Into Current Debates on Race and Slavery. Diss. Dartmouth College, 2018.