Research Paper: Douglas Few Slave Narratives Are as Compelling

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Few slave narratives are as compelling as that of Frederick Douglass, because of the rich detail used to convey the author's experiences. However, the narrative is effective on more levels than just its graphic imagery. In his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass draws clear arguments about logical inconsistencies in the pro-slavery argument. Douglass also presents a clear ethical argument that shows why slavery should be abolished. The core philosophical objections that Douglass uses in his narrative center around the core idea that slavery is dehumanizing. Douglass even implies that slavery dehumanizes all members of the society that support the practice, and not just the slaves.

Modern readers might find Douglass's narrative a matter of common sense, but when the author wrote it and delivered speeches to northern white audiences, slavery was still common practice in the United States. Many who did not overtly oppose the practice of slavery still supported the institution implicitly and indirectly by remaining silent. Therefore, one of the most effective tools that Douglass uses in his narrative is to spell out clearly for an uneducated public what slavery actually is. It is entirely likely that men and women in the north would not have known about the rapes, the beatings, and the systematic ways that slaves were prevented from creating social networks that might have aided revolts. Northern audiences might not have heard about some of the brutal details of slavery because slave voices had been silenced. The silencing of slaves was deliberate, as Douglass point out. Slaves were prohibited from receiving an education, learning to read or write, and were also silenced when they spoke the truth. In Chapter 3 of the autobiography Colonel Lloyd asks a slave who he "belongs to," followed by a series of questions like, "Well, does the colonel treat you well?" And "does he work you too hard?" The slave answers truthfully, not knowing the questions are a trap. Douglass describes what happened next. "He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment's warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death," (Douglass, Chapter 3). Douglass further notes, "This is the penalty of telling the truth, of telling the simple truth, in answer to a series of plain questions," (Chapter 3). The slave was being punished for insubordination; Colonel Lloyd punished the slave for criticizing his master and for undermining the power structure of slavery. Thus, one of Douglass's core arguments against slavery is that the institution builds upon itself. Slaves have no way out. Slavery is incompatible with a free and democratic society. Either the United States defines itself as a brutal dictatorship in which only whites have social and political power; or the United States upholds the laws of the Constitution. Douglass makes a strong case that the United States cannot have it both ways.

Douglass points out the inherent hypocrisy of slavery. In a speech delivered at the Plymouth County Anti-Slavery Society in 1841, Douglass points a finger directly at organized religion. Christianity, Douglass points… [END OF PREVIEW]

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