Narrative of the Life of an American Term Paper

Pages: 3 (1051 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Animals

Narrative of the Life of an American Slave: The Use of Animal Metaphors, Images, And Comparisons by Its Author

Today, we live in a world where we usually encounter animals as pets or as cellophane wrapped packages in the meat department -- seldom as beasts of burden or creatures that we make an economic profit from, unless we are farmers. But in the 19th century of the rural agrarian South, animals were necessary to the livelihood of plantation owners, making work less onerous and providing a potential for profit in trade. Alas, the human personages of slaves provided similar respite from physical labor and similar sources of profits.

This is why, over the course of Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, the author, the once-enslaved Frederick Douglass, frequently makes use of animal images to describe his plight and to make analogies between his own existence and the existence of an animal. This would not be, initially a surprise to his contemporary readership. As a slave in the American South, Douglass was frequently forced to work amongst animals as well as function like one, so animals were a ready source of metaphor.

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Douglass makes it clear how he was often asked to function as a beast of burden in his own labors, and punished like a beast by being whipped. He wrote in an era where animals were not accorded even minimal rights. Today, animal rights are a frequent source and subject of public debate, but in Douglass' era, because of the human possession of a soul, in contrast to animals, the idea of animals and humans being close in origin was less comfortable. Rather, what was of debate was if Douglass' own race was fully human or closer to the non-human 'lower' rungs of the animal kingdom, as they were frequently treated.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Narrative of the Life of an American Assignment

Thus, Douglass uses animal metaphors to glean support for his cause from a potentially sympathetic Northern readership and audience, from a religious perspective. He has a soul, unlike an animal, yet he was treated like one. He uses examples of his being treated like an animal, and bought and sold like a beast, to show that even under the 'best' forms of human enslavement, in other words, even when slaves have kind masters, they are treated as subhuman actors in the universe. "Added to the cruel lashing a to which these slaves were subjected," on one farm, "they [the slaves] were kept nearly half-starved. They seldom knew what it was to eat a full meal. I have seen Mary [a fellow slave] contending with the pigs for the offal thrown into the street. So much was Mary kicked and cut to pieces, that she was oftener called pecked than by her name." (1897, Chapter IV) Mary, out of slavery and the ill treatment is reduced to the status of a beast, although she is made, like all humans, in God's image, many of Douglass' abolitionists and Northern Christian readers would marvel, with horror.

What makes a human being human, Douglass stresses, is his or her desire for freedom, freedom to exercise his or her will. Fighting with animals for food is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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