Frederick Douglass and Life of a Slave Girl Essay

Pages: 5 (1523 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Frederick Douglass

THE ROLE of VIOLENCE in the NARRATIVE of Frederick Douglass

In his July 4, 1852 oration at Rochester, New York, ex-slave Frederick Douglass, seen by some as "The noblest slave that God ever set free," declared to his rapt audience that the 4th of July, at least in the eyes of African-Americans, "is a day that reveals to all black men and women the gross injustice and cruelty to which we are the constant victim. To us, your celebration is a sham... all of your religious parade and a fraud, a deception... And a hypocrisy, a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace even a nation of savages... " (Du Bois, 14).

Clearly in this speech, Frederick Douglass vividly points out that the "cruelty" and "crimes" committed against African-Americans under the domination of plantation owners in the South and those who have managed to become ex-slaves or freedmen like Douglass, have experienced much violence at the hands of white slave owners and those who buy and sell human beings at slave auctions for a very hefty profit. Nowhere else is this violence so well-detailed as in Douglass' own narrative of his life, first published in 1845 and considered by many of his contemporaries as a true and accurate depiction of slave life some fifteen years before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Download full Download Microsoft Word File
paper NOW!
In the Preface of Douglass' narrative, the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the "Liberator" newspaper of Boston, strongly supports the assertion that violence played a very crucial and almost always devastating role in the lives of slaves. For example, Garrison mentions several instances of "murderous cruelty" brought against slaves for no other reason than for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or for attempting to escape from a bloody scourging" at the hands of a white plantation owner. Overall, Garrison argues that since no legal protection existed for slaves, "any amount of cruelty may be inflicted upon them with impunity." Thus, "Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of a more horrible state of society?" (Jacobs, 11).

TOPIC: Essay on Frederick Douglass & Life of a Slave Girl Assignment

Certainly, the "cruelty" which Garrison speaks of can be found in abundance in Douglass' narrative. In Chapter One, Douglass provides some very detailed and disturbing images of what it was like living under the oppression of white slave owners. One of these individuals was named Mr. Plummer, the overseer of a small plantation owned by Captain Anthony, Douglass' first white master who owned "three farms and about thirty slaves" (Jacobs, 13). Mr. Plummer it seems took great pride and enjoyment out of whipping and beating slaves, for Douglass calls him "a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer and a savage monster" (Jacobs, 13). In one instance, Mr. Plummer was known to have "cut and slash the women's heads so horribly that even his master would be enraged at his cruelty" (Jacobs, 14).

Also, Captain Anthony does not appear to have been less cruel, for he once took Douglass' aunt, tied her up to a ceiling joist and whipped "her naked back till she was literally covered with blood" (Jacobs, 14). Douglass' response in his narrative to witnessing these and other acts of violence as a child were extreme "outrages" against another human being, so much so that they "struck me with awful force" (Jacobs, 14), an indication that Douglass long remembered these incidents and at the time was completely helpless to do anything about them.

Unfortunately, there would be other such incidents in Douglass' life well up until the time he gained his freedom sometime in the 1830's.

In Chapter Two of his narrative, Douglass recalls another white slave owner in Baltimore named Mr. Severe who, like Mr. Plummer, was a plantation overseer, a person that took care of his master's property and was responsible for holding all of the slaves in a very tight line of utter obedience. This individual "was a cruel man" and Douglass himself admits that he saw Mr. Severe on many occasions "whip a woman causing the blood to run half an hour at the time... He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity... " and when Mr. Severe was close to death sometime later, he uttered "with his dying groans, bitter curses and horrid oaths" at those in his presence, most of whom were his slaves who regarded his death "as the result of a merciful providence" (Jacobs, 21).

Through this description, it would seem that Mr. Severe's slaves would have been happy to see him perish before their eyes, due to inflicting upon them great pain and misery. However, Mr. Severe's slaves did not feel justified by his death, for they considered it as a form of pity from God, i.e., "merciful providence." For Douglass, it can be said that he too felt the same way about the death of Mr. Severe, for he was a religious man and knew that hating and despising Mr. Severe would have made him no better than his white oppressors.

In Chapter Three of Douglass' narrative, we find a rather surprising situation as compared to what has already been discussed regarding the violent actions of the white slave owners and the plantation overseers. In this case, it is the slaves themselves who are guilty of violence, not against their owners and overseers but against each other. For instance, Douglass relates that many slaves were convinced that "their own masters are better than the masters of other slaves" which often led to fighting amongst themselves "about the relative goodness of their masters" and how superior this goodness was "over that of the others" (Jacobs, 30). During his years with a Colonel Lloyd, yet another white plantation owner, Douglass recalls that quarrels between rival slave groups "almost always ended in a fight and those that whipped were suppose to have gained the point at issue" (Jacobs, 31).

Perhaps at this point in his narrative, Douglass is attempting to put forth the idea that violence, regardless of race or social position, is part of every man's makeup and is best expressed when it results from inner rivalry and jealousy. After all, as Douglass maintains, "It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave, but to be a poor man's slave was deemed a disgrace... " (Jacobs, 31).

In Chapter Four, Douglass speaks about yet another white plantation overseer whose character in the eyes of those slaves under him clearly made him "a grave man" who commanded that his orders be obeyed. This Mr. Gore also "dealt sparingly with his words and bountifully with his whip" and when he found it necessary to punish a slave, Mr. Gore "seemed to do so from a sense of duty and feared no consequences" (Jacobs, 40). As to violence, Mr. Gore's "savage brutality was equaled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds" against the slaves that were under his charge as plantation overseer.

For instance, a slave named Demby was brutally whipped by Mr. Gore which forced

Demby to head for the cool waters of a nearby stream. When Demby refused to obey Mr. Gore, he "raised his musket, took deadly aim and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood" in defiance (Jacobs, 41). With this, Douglass provides no evidence as to how he felt when Demby, shot through the head, fell dead in the water, his body allowed to float away like a piece of driftwood. But in the words of William Lloyd Garrison, it is obvious that Douglass harbored a deep hatred for slavery and racism, for as he points out after listening to Douglass lecture in the city of Nantucket… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

Two Ordering Options:

Which Option Should I Choose?
1.  Download full paper (5 pages)Download Microsoft Word File

Download the perfectly formatted MS Word file!

- or -

2.  Write a NEW paper for me!✍🏻

We'll follow your exact instructions!
Chat with the writer 24/7.

Slave Stories Essay

Former Slaves and Compares and Contrasts Term Paper

Gender Issue in American Slavery History Essay

Black Slaves Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglas Term Paper

African-American Literature Term Paper

View 200+ other related papers  >>

How to Cite "Frederick Douglass and Life of a Slave Girl" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Frederick Douglass and Life of a Slave Girl.  (2009, January 31).  Retrieved December 1, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Frederick Douglass and Life of a Slave Girl."  31 January 2009.  Web.  1 December 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Frederick Douglass and Life of a Slave Girl."  January 31, 2009.  Accessed December 1, 2021.