During the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass we question the role of power among the masters and slaveholders. We learn of the numerous amount of power the “masters and slaveholders” during that time had over their slaves. The masters controlled almost every aspect of their slaves’ lives, whether they liked it or not. The rulers separated slaves from their families. They controlled the education of the slaves they possessed. They also inflicted punishments on their slaves, no matter the action or reason, it was purely and solely the rulers decision. It appears as though the slaves of this time were valued as property, and not human beings. The ones of this time that had slaves, were also the ones that had the power, the power to influence the lives of those they owned.
At the very beginning of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass we learn of the separation of Frederick “Douglass” from his mother, Harriet Bailey. He claims that he had been separated from his mother when he was but just an infant (Douglass. 1). He also says that this practice is a common one in slavery, and that children are removed from their mothers care before they are a year and placed in care of an older female slave, while the mother is sent to a farm a good distance away, conforming no close bonds (Douglass 2). This is not the only time that slaves are removed from the surroundings of those that they care about. Many times we hear of slaves being taken from the care of one master and placed into the care of another with no notice and with the removal from all friends and family ties that did remain.
In 1962 there were nine black students in the freshman class at Harvard University. Five years later, in 1967, there were 55 black first-year students. In 1969 there were 121. In the 100 years between 1850 and 1950, only 45 black students had attended Yale College. In 1968 there were 31 black freshmen at Yale. The following year, in 1969, there were 96 black freshmen
One of the main ideas seen in this book is the way that education is held above the slaves by their masters and overseers. The slaves are not allowed to have reading materials and it is frowned upon when they are taught anything of value to them in the world outside of slavery. One of the most memorable educational stepping stones on his path to freedom was taught to him by his own mistress, Mrs. Auld. She taught him the A, B, C’s and how to spell small words (Douglass 20). Another thing Douglass remembers is tricking the young white boys into teaching him more. He would sometimes bribe them into “spelling more words than he could”. Because slaves were not educated properly as that of whites at that time, they had to resort to other methods of learning and had to either educate themselves or the other slaves.
When thinking of slavery, one of the first things I think of is punishment. There are many times throughout the book we see harsh accounts of punishment, some, actually all that seem hardly worth it. One of the cruelest punishments accounted for by Douglass was the one he received from Mr. Covey (Douglass 40). He also tells of the first time he recalled of viewing a beating. One of the female slaves was tied up and beat until her back and shoulders began to bleed (Douglass 4). There are numerous accounts of beating among men and women, given by men and women.
These are just a few of the examples of the power the masters and slaveholders had over their slaves. In other words, the lack of power the slaves had over their own lives. Their masters and caretakers controlled almost every aspect of their lives, just like that of small children, in addition to no family, no education, and no choices or options or chance for a real future. They were so restricted and ignorant to the world outside of slavery, that it makes you wonder what happened to those slaves that had never seen the world outside of their master’s plantation barriers once they were set free.
I really enjoyed reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This in turn made writing the paper easier and more efficient. I think reading books like this help when it comes time to writing the papers because it gives me something to get interested in and actually care about reading and writing a paper for. This so far has been my favorite book that we have read as a class. I would actually prefer reading shorter smaller books and having to write more papers. I think it makes it better all around if I can write about something I want to write about or something that I understand. But I also know that while this is something that would be easier and more convenient, it may not be something that will prepare me when I get to college. But compared to other papers written and books we have read, I would prefer to do more like this one. I believe I will receive a good grade because I feel that I had a good understand of the book.