Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass

  • Born in Maryland, a slave, son of a slave and a white man

  • He describes his childhood: his mother died when he was 7, he was hungry and cold but not really abused.

  • He became a servant to the Aulds in 1826 in Baltimore. Mrs A. even began to teach him to read and write which Mr A. prohibited. He rebelled and taught himself how to read and write.

  • He goes back to the plantation and because of his rebellious character he is hired as a farm worker under a slave speaker. After 6 months of suffering he stroke back.

  • Then in 1836 he is sent back to Baltimore to learn the calking trade in the shipyards, helped by his future wife Ann Murray and masquerading as a free merchant sailor, he takes a train to New York City.

  • They get married and he changes his name to F. Douglass (before Frederick Bailey)

  • 3 years later he joins the abolitionist movement as a lecturer.

  • He publishes his narrative en 1845. It sold more than 30,000 copies in 5 years becoming a best seller.

  • News paper The North Star , In this paper he wrote a novella The Heroic Slave (1853) based on an actual slave revolt.

  • 2nd auto. My Bondage and My Freedom (1855).

  • Civil war: he helped recruit troops for Lincoln. After the war he became very influential: president of the Freedman’s Bureau Bank, consul to Haiti and charge d’affairs for the Dominican Republic.

  • Final auto. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881)

  • He died of a heart attack in 1895.

Douglass' Second Session

- Douglass's Narrative is a courageous work because it confronts the misuse of Christianity in perpetuating the widely held belief in the slave owner's "God-given" right to own or sell other human beings

- In the first chapters he breaks the myth of the happily singing slave. He uses incidents of cruelty that he witnessed along with songs of the slaves themselves—spirituals—to emphasize this distinction.

  • How does Frederick Douglass's skilled use of language paint a realistic portrait of slavery?

  • How successful is Douglass in persuading the reader of the evils that slavery inflicts on both slave and slaveholder alike?

    • Logos: appeal to reason

    • Ethos: persuasive appeal of one's character, especially how this character is established by means of the speech or discourse

    • Pathos: appeal to emotion

    • Irony

    • Repetition (repetitio)

    • Imagery:

  • According to Douglass, what were some common misconceptions about slaves and their situation?

        1. Themes:

  • Ignorance as a tool of slavery

  • Knowledge as the Path to Freedom

  • Slavery’s damaging Effect on Slaveholders

  • Slaveholding as a Perversion of Christianity

        1. Motifs:

  • The victimization of female slaves

  • The treatment of Slaves as Property


*Q1: Think about the comparison Douglass makes between being elected to Congress and being chosen to run an errand at the Great House Farm. What is Douglass's tone? What is the point he is trying to make?

-What seems to be the tone of the spiritual "Great House Farm"? Why?

For what might the phrase "Great House" be a metaphor? Consider the context of the song and evaluate the denotation and connotation of "Great House."

*Q2: - Determine how Douglass describes the songs or spirituals that the slaves would sing.

*Q3: Upon reflection, what does Douglass realize about why slaves sang spirituals and about the basic purpose of the spirituals?

Which of Douglass's descriptive words or phrases in the passage show the extent to which he deplores slavery? Which rhetorical appeals does Douglass use and to what effect?

*Q4: How does Douglass dismiss the misconception that a singing slave is necessarily a content and happy slave? What analogy does he use? Is this analogy effective?

* Can this be considered a literary document? What kinds of literary features does it possess?
* Is Douglass’s Narrative an autobiography?
* How does Douglass show that slavery corrupts slave owners?

Quotations from the text: Chapter II
1. "Few privileges were esteemed higher, by the slaves of the out-farms, than that of being selected to do errands at the Great House Farm. It was associated in their minds with greatness. A representative could not be prouder of his election to a seat in the American Congress, than a slave on one of the out-farms would be of his election to do errands at the Great House Farm."
2. "The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness. They would compose and sing as they went along, consulting neither time nor tune. The thought that came up, came out-if not in the word, in the sound;--and as frequently in the one as in the other. They would sometimes sing the most pathetic sentiment in the most rapturous tone, and the most rapturous sentiment in the most pathetic tone. Into all of their songs they would manage to weave something of the Great House Farm. Especially would they do this, when leaving home. They would then sing most exultingly the following words:

"I am going away to the Great House Farm!

O, yea! O, yea! O!"

This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject would do."

3. "I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle, so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them. . . To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds. If any one wishes to be impressed with the soul-killing effects of slavery, let him go to Colonel Lloyd's plantation, and, on allowance-day, place himself in the deep pine woods, and there let him, in silence, analyze the sounds that shall pass through the chambers of his soul,—and if he is not thus impressed, it will only be because 'there is no flesh in his obdurate heart."

4. "I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion."

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