Frederick Douglass Research Proposal

Pages: 5 (1763 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Frederick Douglass was one of the most prominent figures of American civil rights struggle. He was born into slavery around 1818. He escaped from slavery in 1838, in his early thirties. Apart from his influential career as a writer, Douglass - who had no formal education or training - became a diplomat, a counselor to four presidents, and a respected orator. He advocated racial equality, and his influence is present in the works of political activists and African-American writers who followed. However, his inspiration was not restricted to African-Americans. Douglass's "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" which tackles issues such as oppression, the struggle for freedom, as well as the search for identity, has resonated with all people regardless of their skin color. The book was first published in 1845, sixteen years prior to the beginning of the Civil War. Apart from being a source of inspiration, the book itself is also incredibly valuable from a historical point-of-view. One must remember that during slavery slaves were not allowed to learn how to read and write which made it impossible for the majority of them to record their thoughts. In this sense, Douglass's testimony of life under slavery is one of the very few first-hand accounts of one man's struggle for freedom and racial equality in early nineteenth century America.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Proposal on Frederick Douglass Was One of the Most Assignment

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" is divided into eleven chapters which cover the period of time between Douglass's birth and his escape from slavery in 1838. The tone of his book is dignified and rather detached although his readers cannot overlook or underestimate the horrors of slavery and its emotional and physical effects on slaves. Logical analysis is aimed at presenting facts through the eyes of the narrator; although highly personal, his account is not meant to attract pity, on the contrary the reader gets the impression that Douglass's intention was to paint a clear and vivid picture of slavery for posterity. The language is vivid in illustrating the treatment slaves were subjected to as well as psychological insights into the power dynamics between slaves and their owners. In fact, the book features names of people and places which transformed it from a slave's account of slavery to an indictment against a society which regarded slavery as an efficient economic institution.

The task of understanding the value and importance of Douglass's book cannot be undertaken without first establishing how his book fits into the genre it represents, namely slave narratives. In turn, slave narratives are examples of narrative theory, one of the most expanding fields of contemporary literary history (Davis, Gates 147). Over the past few decades, the status of slave narratives has changed considerably with these texts receiving close analysis and criticism and establishing them as a genre in its own (Ibid.). In fact, even with contemporary society overcoming the cruelties and hardship of slavery, these texts remain of interest because they do not lose their relevance. Moreover, these narratives are a testimony of the power of narration, and the healing power of writing in general as a means of overcoming a traumatic experience. However, they are not restricted to the life of an individual even if slave narratives, especially in the case of Douglass's, are aimed at presenting the life of one man. Despite this fact, we must remember that every slave was a representative of slavery as a whole, and that one man's story can, in fact, reflect that of entire generations, and this is precisely the purpose of Douglass when he wrote his "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave."

The book begins with Douglass's birth; we are told that his father was a slave owner, and his mother a slave named Harriet Bailey. In fact, Douglass talks about the fact that many slave women were raped by their owners who wanted to expand their slave populations. The first chapter is focused on his origins but Douglass also refers to the fake justification that slave owners invoked to explain their abhorrent treatment of slaves. Christian slave owners used religious teachings to justify this practice; in fact, this is a recurrent theme in the book. The following chapters expand on the conditions in which Douglass and other slaves live. Douglass is the property of Captain Anthony and Colonel Lloyd, and survives on very little food. He witnesses beatings but also the murder of a slave which remains without consequences at the level of the community who largely disregards it. Douglass also tackles the issue of singing; it was commonly believed that singing was a way for slaves to express joy; instead, Douglass argues that singing was a means of relieving sorrow and pain.

Douglass was raised by his grandmother who was too old to work, so she was in charge with raising the slaves' children. She was an excellent storyteller who deeply influenced Douglass especially as far as his public career. In addition to listening to her folk tales, on Sundays and religious holidays Douglass listened to slave preachers using "rich phrases, folk poetry, and vivid illustrations" in order to mobilize and touch the slaves (Lampe 4). At age seven or eight, Douglass is sent to Baltimore to live with the Auld family and look after their son, Thomas. It is here that Douglass takes reading lessons from Mrs. Auld until her husband finds out and forbids her to continue teaching the slave. However, Douglass finds a way to continue learning as he trades bread for lessons with poor white boys in the neighborhood, and secretly uses Thomas' books. Years later, his original master dies so Douglass is lent to a poor farmer with a reputation for abusing slaves, and treating them very badly. He spends a year with Covey who has a habit of whipping slaves until Douglass confronts and fights him which is also the day that Covey stops abusing Douglass.

While living with William Freeland, a kind master, Douglass finds a family among the other slaves on the plantation, and becomes a Sunday school teacher to other slaves teaching them to read and write. He tries to escape by canoeing up the Chesapeake Bay, but is caught and sent to work for Hugh Auld in Baltimore again running errands for shipyard workers. Soon after he starts working at a shipyard and becomes proficient at ship caulking. However, he is not allowed to keep the money he earns because he has to turn it over to Mr. Auld. Douglass manages to make an arrangement with Auld to hire himself out; in exchange, he would give Auld a certain sum of money each week. This way Douglass is able to save enough money from what he is left with after paying Auld, and plans his escape to New York. His escape is successful, and after getting to New York he is advised to move to New Bedford, Massachusetts. There, he settles with his new wife, Anna Murray, and makes his living working odd jobs because he is unable to find work as a caulker as white caulkers refused to work with former slaves for fear of losing their jobs. It is also during this stage in his life that Douglass embarks on his public career when, at an anti-slavery convention he is encouraged to speak.

One of the most important themes of the narrative is knowledge. As a young boy, Douglass is determined to learn to read and write because he realizes that knowledge is a path to freedom (Lampe 21). However, slave owners denied slaves the right to education because depriving them of knowledge meant they had little chance to make their living outside the plantation. In addition, when Mr. Auld forbids his wife to teach the young slave, Douglass becomes fully aware of the importance of knowledge since, according to his owner, education could "ruin slaves." He realizes that education is, in fact, the primary means by which he can attain freedom. Moreover, he decides to help other slaves fight for their freedom by teaching them to read and write in Sunday school.

However, it is interesting to note that Douglass does not overestimate the power of education. At no point does he oversimplify things; on the contrary, he is aware that the connection between knowledge and freedom is not automatically established because society does not allow it. He teaches other slaves to read and write, but does not guarantee their freedom. In fact, Douglass knows that the first effect of education is suffering because an awakened conscience means that slaves will become more aware of their condition, and the injustice of slavery. He helps them create their identity by recognizing themselves as men rather than slaves, and getting a profound understanding of injustice. However, before they can be physically free, slaves still have to break free from the chains of slavery.

One must make another consideration on the issue of identity. The narrative is focused on the ability to utter one's name,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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