Good Frederick Douglass Narrative Term Paper Example
“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” offers an insight on the institution of slavery during the antebellum period as one of the brutal practices taking the lives of numerous slaves. Born as a slave on the plantations of Colonel Lloyd, Douglass explains that the institution of slavery prevented the slaves from having normal families. Most of the slaves in the South worked on the plantations that raised various crops, such as cotton, tobacco and many others. Slave children of the blacks lived separate from their parents and those who had white fathers faced the worst situation of life (Douglass 10). Whipping was a common and one of the cruelest punishments for the slaves. Three to four hundred slaves often worked on a single plantation. The slave masters provided food and clothing to the slaves in little quantities. Slave children roamed naked for most of the time and received a little food.
Over thirty slaves slept side by side on a common damp floor under the cover of rough torn blankets. It was a mandate that the slaves woke up early in the morning, the absence of which would lead to brutal whippings by the masters. The masters often used foul language and punished the slaves for no reason. The slaves performed all sorts of mechanical operations, such as “shoemaking, mending, weaving, grain-grinding, coopering, blacksmithing, cartwrighting” (Douglass 18) and many others. Slaves often sang in the most pathetic tone when they were unhappy. The slaves had no right to tell the truth about their masters. Douglass explains an occasion during which the slave master sells the slave away to a trader for the sole reason that the slave reported about the ill treatment of the master. It was the worst scenario of working as a slave under the poor man. Enslaved women had to fulfill the responsibility of raising their families in addition to working as slaves. Most of the women worked as domestic servants and had less freedom when compared to women working in the plantations.
The slave masters killed the slaves if they disobeyed them. Douglass provides an example of Mr. Gore who kills his slave for disobeying his order. Moreover, the masters received no punishment for killing their slaves as they feel it to be a common practice instead of a crime. The slaves had to suffer hottest summers and coldest winters as they had limited or no clothes to protect themselves from the climate (Douglass 30). The life on the plantations was different from that in the cities as the slaves in cities were almost equivalent to freemen. The slave masters in the cities were kind and humble in nature and were anxious to let the world know that they feed their slaves well. They offered sufficient food and clothes to the slaves and treated them in a pleasant manner. Douglass narrates his experience of learning alphabets from his new mistress in Baltimore.
However, the master prevented him from learning alphabets with the fear that a literate slave might leave the institution of slavery. “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell” (Douglass 35). Under the institution of slavery, it was the power of the white man to enslave the black men in every way possible. However, education was an important tool for the slaves because educated slaves would be strong enough to oppose the institution of slavery and nothing could stop them from becoming freemen. Slavery violated the natural rights of the slaves as they were just the property of the master and the master had the whole right on the slaves. The slave masters exploited the enslaved women. Enslaved women often became the victims of rape, exposed to the unwanted and relentless sexual demands of white men who wielded unchecked power over them. The slave masters used to compel the women slaves “to commit the sin of adultery” (Douglass 59). The slaves were the renewable resources and fresh supplied always available.
The slaves had a constant threat of sale as the slave owners had the privilege to sell the slaves for huge profits. Slave traders and owners gambled on the future prices of the slaves. In most of the cases, the masters sold the slaves if they found them running away. In spite of the fear of punishment or sale, thousands of slaves ran away in search of freedom. Slave resistance was one of the common scenarios of the antebellum period. The slaves resisted the institution of slavery by slowing their pace of work, destroying crops, disabling machinery and many other ways . Some others stole livestock and valuables belonging to the masters. A few others attempted to kill their masters by poisoning their food. In some cases, the slaves committed suicides unable to withstand the institution of slavery causing huge losses to their masters. Slaves made huge gatherings in the evenings after the work to discuss all possible ways of escaping the institution of slavery.
The slaves always planned to escape to the North as the institution of slavery was moderate in the north and most of the slaves in the North were already freemen during the period (Douglass 43). However, there was a great fear of getting caught by the master if the slave would escape from the plantation. Douglass was lucky enough to plan an escape from the city instead of the plantation. Moreover, though the slaves were physically free from the institution of slavery they were still the legal slaves of their masters, which stood as an obstacle before the slaves. Also, the managers of the plantation were so attentive that they put an eye on the slaves all the time making it difficult for them to implement their plans. In spite of the laws, the white owners received no conviction for their brutality towards the slaves.
It was the antebellum period that saw massive uprisings from the blacks for freedom and liberty of their rights. The distribution of newspapers through the mass printing press made it easy for the blacks to assemble in groups and fight for their rights. The blacks, inspired by the legislature of the states that abolished slavery, organized mass movements for their freedom. The slaves troubled the masters in every possible way to let the masters free them unable to bear their behavior. The antebellum period was a period of political and technological change in America . The invention of new technologies limited the work of the slaves as the machines completed a majority of the tasks. In some states, the whites cooperated with the blacks in their movement for freedom and influenced the social system of America. Some of them even applied coal to mix up with the blacks in their struggle.
With the massive movements of freedom in the North, the inspired Southerners organized protests against the slave masters and slave traders. With the emergence of the new laws, such as sharecropping, the blacks were able to work in the farms and enjoy a part of the earned profits. Black activists, such as Douglass supported the protests at and helped the blacks earn their human dignity. The public speeches organized by the Black activists, proposed necessary changes in the society for the improvement of the condition of the blacks . Amidst struggle for freedom, most of the blacks migrated to the north where the institution of slavery ended long before. Some of the blacks declared themselves as freemen without the consent from the slave owners. The antebellum period brought some of the most important changes in the American society and transformed the practice of slavery in the country.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Oxford University, 1851.
Schneider, Dorothy and Carl J. Schneider. Slavery in America. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2007.