Frederick Douglass was born as a slave at a plantation farm between 1817 and 1818. Like other slaves, he was not sure of his exact date of birth. He says that, “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it”. He was able to relate their birthdays with different seasons of the year. His mother was Harriet Bailey and his father was a white man whom he did not know though rumored to be his master. Douglass was separated from his mother at a tender age and started working in his master’s farm. Because of his age, he did not work at the farm like other slaves and was restricted to doing house chores.
Douglass spent most of his life being changed from one slave master to the next. Nevertheless, he admits that throughout his life, he had two main masters. He says that, “I have had two masters. My first master’s name was Anthony”. Anthony was generally known as Captain Antony and was not a humane slaveholder. He took great pleasure at whipping the miserable slaves. Douglass explains a scene in which one of his aunt’s was whipped till she was covered in blood. At the age of seven years, Douglass was transferred to his master’s son in law brother who was known as Auld in Baltimore. Life in Baltimore was better because the slave owners did not want to appear cruel to their town neighbors.
Auld’s wife was kind to him at first because she had never owned a slave before. She even tried to help him read and write, but she was stopped by her husband. Nevertheless, Douglass managed to teach himself how to read and write through the help of local boys. He became aware of the cruelty the slaves were going through and learnt of the existence of anti-slavery movements and other abolitionist. He started to plan how to escape to the North. He was transferred to another master, Edward Covey, who was the cruelest master of them all. He was rented to different masters all of who continued to harass him and break his dreams of being a free man. He taught other slaves how to read and write and was even jailed after he was found planning to escape. He ended up working in Baltimore trade industry where he saved money and managed to escape to New York. He changed his name and married Anna Murray. He later moved to Massachusetts where he was engaged with abolitionist movements.
A number of main themes are explored in the narrative. Ignorance as a tool of slavery is one of the main ideas in the narrative. Slave owners used ignorance as a way of propagating and perpetrating slavery. As Douglass said, the slaves did not even know their birthdays as any documents pertaining to their birth was out of reach. As a matter of fact, many slaves believed that slavery was a natural and normal way of life. Many slaves did not know their paternity details. This means that these children lacked a sense of identity. The slaves were denied the privilege to learn. The slave masters knew that learning how to read and write would give the slaves a sense of self-sufficiency and capability. This would soon lead to revolt, which the masters didn’t want to entertain. Furthermore, with the slaves being illiterate, the slave owners could control what the rest of America knew about the practice of slavery. By doing so, the masters were able to propagate slavery.
Douglass also demonstrates that knowledge is the only path to true freedom. While in Baltimore, Douglass learns of the power of education had and went out of his way to learn how to read and write. This is done behind his masters back through the help of local boys. He realizes that the answer to their long sought freedom lay on education when his master confronted his wife about teaching him how to read saying education was bad for slaves. Douglass shows that education was the primary way by which he was able to rescue himself and also engage other slaves towards regaining freedom. According to Douglass, knowledge help the slaves to identify the barbaric injustices of slavery to their own self and others. It also helps the slaves to view themselves as men and not someone’s property. Douglass also delves into the damaging effects of slaveholding on the masters. The slave owners’ moral health was not spared by the slave holding practice. The masters engaged in adultery and even rape siring children with their slaves. Slavery therefore needed to be completely abolished as it had detrimental effects on both the victims and perpetrators.
In conclusion, the narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass contains Douglass’ life as a slave and his journey to attaining freedom. Having been born in a plantation with no father, Douglass goes through hell as he is changed between slave masters. In his journey, he realizes that the slave owners use ignorance as a way of perpetuating slavery. He, therefore, learns how to read and write and pursues education and knowledge as a path to freedom. He manages to escape to New York after earning some money at an industry. He marries his wife who was a free woman and continued with serious engagement in abolitionist movements.