Fredrick Douglass1



The brutality that slaves endured form their masters and from the institution of slavery caused slaves to be denied their god given rights. In the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” Douglass has the ability to show the psychological battle between the white slave holders and their black slaves, which is shown by Douglass’ own intellectual struggles against his white slave holders. I will focus my attention on how education allowed Douglass to understand how slavery was wrong, and how the Americans saw the blacks as not equal, and only suitable for slave work. I will also contrast how Douglass’ view was very similar to that of the women in antebellum America, and the role that Christianity played in his life as a slave and then as a free man.
The novel clearly displays the children’s animalistic behavior when they were not regularly allowanced. Douglass says, “Our food was coarse corn meal boiled, which was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied" (Douglass 41-42). This clearly describes how children where treated like animals and their inability to act in the manner of a normal educated child. Slave children were denied many luxuries that other children took for granted. The knowledge of their birthdays was one of these luxuries. Douglass states, "I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, springtime, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege" (Douglass 19). This passage clearly indicates differences between white children and slave children. These differences build the foundation for demeaning the child into a slave and removing his manhood from his soul. This is the start of the process that extracts a brute from a child. Throughout the narrative Douglass uses the word ‘brute’, to form the image that slaves were nothing more than beasts. This is only one of the numerous examples in which Douglass creates the image of a dehumanized slave though the use of his vocabulary. Douglass states, “I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!” (Douglass 73). Douglass makes it clear to the reader that slavery degrades a man, and makes him loose his manhood. According to Douglass, slavery transformed humans into beasts. Douglass was no longer a man; he was in every essence an animal transformed by the brutality of slavery into a mindless worker. Divine further supports the idea by saying, “The plantation was seen as a sort of asylum providing guidance and care for a race that could not look after itself” (Divine 237). Slavery as an institution created animals from men; it bleeds the humanity from humans and formed beasts in it’s wake that need nothing but a comparatively small amount of cultivation to make him an ornament to society and a blessing to his race. By the law of the land, by the voice of the people, by the terms of the slave code, he was only a piece of property, a beast of burden, and a chattel person. Divine supports this thought by stating,