Essay: Douglass Narrative Frederick Douglass Paints

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Douglass Narrative

Frederick Douglass paints a vivid picture of what life was like as a slave on several farms in Maryland during the early part of the 19th century. What emerges is a portrait of a time in American society where base human behavior was not uncommon. Even though the brutal whippings described by Douglass are shocking, it is the day-to-day struggles of the slaves that seem to carry the most troubling message of what cruelties mankind is capable of.

Douglass does not waste much time in getting to a description of a cruel whipping. He discusses how slaves rarely know their birth dates, whether through tradition, indifference, or both, and how infants are torn from the mothers and sent away to other farms. Foremost on Douglass' mind, however, is the constant and real threat of beatings, whippings, and being sold to another owner far away from family and friends. The reminders that slaves have no control over their life or destiny are ever present and enforced through brutal means. Depression must have been rampant and hard to fend off, which might explain why maintaining connections with family and friends was so important, even when a vicious whipping was the final reward.

Reading the descriptions Douglass provides could tempt some readers to wonder if good behavior could have spared the slaves some of the brutality that was so common during that period; however, the devil is in the details. The field hands worked from before dawn to after dusk in the fields, only to spend what little time was left at the end of the day eating a meal and preparing the next day's field work. Very little time was left over for sleep and this took place on a bare floor with a thin blanket. The beginning of the work day was announced by an overseer with whip in hand and any slave not able to arrive on time to begin work was severely punished.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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