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The Narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet A Jacobs
Slavery was perhaps one of the most appalling tragedies in the history of The United States of America. To tell the people of the terrible facts, runaway slaves wrote their accounts of slavery down on paper and published it for the nation to read. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs were just two of the many slaves who did this. Each of the slaves had different experiences with slavery, but they all had one thing in common: they tell of the abominable institution of slavery and how greatly it affected their lives.
When Douglass was seven years old, he was sent to a new master and mistress, Hugh and Sophia Auld. Sophia was a very kind and affectionate woman, probably one of the nicest people Douglass had encountered in his early childhood life. Here’s what Douglass had to say about his new mistress:
“Her face was made of heavenly smiles and her voice of tranquil music (Douglas 41).”
This caused Douglass to view the whites differently than before. His previous owners were cruel and corrupt who often whipped and beat their slaves in agony. But not Mrs. Auld; Douglass was astonished at her kind heart. She treated Douglass and other black slaves like human beings. She even began to teach him how to read and write. This led Douglass to believe that his own race could be treated like humans instead of savages by the whites and that the white race could have the capabilities of acting like human beings towards the blacks (Douglass 42).
But when Sophia’s husband discovered about the private lessons, he ordered her to stop. He told her that teaching Douglass to read would ruin him forever as a slave. Hearing this affected Douglass’ values of having an education greatly; he became determined to read at all costs. Reading became everything and was his journey to freedom. This was a very important first step because he both learned of the world around him and the world outside of slavery. It was then that he became aware of his current status: a lowly slave that was considered to be a chattel. And it was then that he wanted his freedom. Meanwhile, the venom slave owner began to poison Sophia’s kind nature. Sadly, Douglass was once again a piece of meat and he no longer viewed the black race as one of the whites. Also, his views for white slave owners changed similarly; his heart was filled with abhorrence for them (Douglass 42).
There were many times when Douglass thought about running away to become a free man, but there were few times when he was really determined to fulfill the risky and dangerous task. One of the few times came during the year when he worked for Edward Covey. Douglass became a field hand for the first time in his life. It was one of the few times he felt like a slave. He was not skilled in the backbreaking work required of him. Covey was a harsh and brutal slaveholder. Mr. Covey made his slaves work in all weathers. It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain, blow, hail, or snow, too hard in the field (Douglass 66).
And if it wasn’t work, work, work, it was beatings, beatings, and beatings. Douglass was often whipped and battered for not working “hard enough.” Under Covey, Douglass and the other slaves were treated as the lowlifes of society, as low as horses and pigs. After six months under Covey, Douglass lost interest in reading and the spirited character he once had in him extinguished. He was so sick of working for Covey and being a slave that he finally couldn’t take it anymore, and wanted to be set loose from his shackles of doom (Douglass 63-72). Douglass wished he could swim so he could swim to his freedom or fly like a bird toward a new and better life. He desired for God’s help and asked him to set him free (Douglass 67). Douglass was so sick of being a slave that he even preferred death over bondage (Douglass 82).
Throughout Douglass’ life, he encountered many different people. But one proved to be a true friend, Sandy Jenkins, a slave who was married to a free woman. Sandy taught him a value of life that is probably one of the most important values - the value of friendship. One day, when Mr. Covey was on another rampage of his, Douglass managed to escape but had no where to go. But luckily, he met Sandy and told him how Mr. Covey was going to “get hold of him” and Sandy kindly welcomed him to his house. Sandy, as a loyal friend, give Douglass guidance as to what procedure it was best for him to follow (Douglass 70). Also, he let Douglass on a secret about a certain root which if he carried on his right side, it would make it impossible for him to get a beating from any white man (Douglass 71). Surprisingly, the root worked at first. But later, the luck of the root wore out and Mr. Covey began to beat Douglass as usual. Covey nearly broke him, but then Douglass defeated him while wearing the root, which strengthened Douglass’ resolve to resist Covey’s violence.
Harriet Jacobs was one of many slaves. Like Douglass, her life and perception of life were intensely affected by others. In Jacobs’ narrative, she wrote about her desire for freedom and her views on the different races. She also demonstrated many points in her narrative that illustrated how her relationships with others influenced her values.
Jacobs’ early childhood was probably one of the best ti
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