Considerations for Reader and Task

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These are to be determined locally with reference to such variables as a student’s motivation, knowledge, and experiences as well as purpose and the complexity of the task assigned and the questions posed.

Considerations for Reader and Task

Various readability measures of the Narrative are largely in agreement that it is of appropriate complexity for grades 6–8. A Coh-Metrix analysis calls attention to this excerpt’s complex syntax and the abstractness of some of the language (e.g., hard-to-define concepts such as slavery and freedom). Helping to balance out that challenge are the text’s story-like structure and the way the text draws clear connections between words and sentences. Readers will still have to make many inferences to interpret and connect the text’s central ideas, however.


Levels of Meaning:

While the apparent aim of the text is to convince readers of the day of the evils of slavery, there are other aims as well; among the latter, not fully revealed in the excerpt, are Douglass’s efforts to assert his own manhood (and that of other black men) and to create an extended analogy between his own literal rise to freedom and a spiritual awakening.


The Narrative uses a fairly simple, explicit, and conventional story structure, with events largely related chronologically by a narrator recounting his past. There are some philosophical discussions that may, to the reader just looking for a story, seem like digressions.

Language Conventionality and Clarity:

Douglass’s language is largely clear and meant to be accessible. He does, however, use some figurative language (e.g., juxtaposing literal bread with the metaphorical bread of knowledge) and literary devices (e.g., personifying freedom). There are also some now-archaic and unusual words and phrasings (e.g., choice documents).

Knowledge Demands:

The Narrative discusses moderately sophisticated themes. The experiences of slavery Douglass describes are obviously outside students’ own experiences, but Douglass renders them vivid. The text is bound by Douglass’s authoritative perspective. General background knowledge about slavery and race in mid-nineteenth century America is helpful, as is knowledge of Christianity, to which Douglass makes frequent reference throughout the excerpt and the work as a whole.


Both the qualitative and quantitative measures support the Standards’ inclusion of the Narrative in the grades 6–8 text complexity band, with the understanding that the text sits at the high end of the range and that it can be reread profitably in later years by more mature students capable of appreciating the deeper messages embedded in the story.

Recommended Placement

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a memoir on abolition written by Frederick Douglass, a famous speaker and ex-slave. The text describes the events of his life.

Text Description

Text Complexity Analysis of

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglas

Recommended Complexity Band: 6th-8th Grade

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