Sample Critical Thinking On Frederick Douglass’ Desire For Freedom
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Classic English Literature
African slaves started in the North American colonies in 1619. By the end of the 17th century the colonies and the United States cotton plantation relied mostly on the slave labor to work in their farms. The African decent slaves were treated like beast of burden. They were categorized as valuable chattel properties by their masters. They had no proper identity. They were not allowed to be educated, not taught to read and write. The slaveholders employed white men as overseers in their farm to make sure that none of their slaves escape. The overseers made sure that all slaves were doing their task. Any sign of weakness was subject to whipping. Disobedient slaves were severely punished physically by flogging and lashing their backs until the master became fatigue due to whipping. Frederick Douglass, an American slave, wrote a narrative describing similar incidents is his life as a slave. He received beatings from his Master Covey. He wrote, “I was seldom free from a sore back. He added, “Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished,” (Douglass 55). Because Douglass could no longer bear the whipping, kicking, and flogging of his Master Covey, he defied his orders. He wrestled and fought back in order to be free from him. That was his turning point in his manhood, he fought for freedom.
Early Life at Lloyd’s Plantation
Frederick Douglass grew in the plantation just like other slaves. He was left in the care of his grandmother. His mother was Harriet Bailey and his father was a white man. He never knew who his father really was although it was said that the master was also his father. When he was seven, his mother died. In his entire life, “he saw his mother only four times and never enjoyed the soothing presence and her watchful care” (Douglass 3) while the white children new their parents and the dates when they were born. Since Douglass as a slave, there was no record of his actual birth date. It was only referred to as to a certain season of planting or harvesting. This clearly showed that Douglass did know much about family ties much more his parents. This longing was deeply kept inside. This boy was growing with no solid foundation.
As a young boy, he was sent to the Great House Farm of his Master Colonel Lloyd. Douglass was not considered a farm hand. His task was to serve his mistress. In the Great House Farm Douglass received a very important blessing in his life. His mistress taught him the alphabet, taught him how to read. Slaves in those days were not allowed to read. It was a crime for slaves to learn to read because it would be a means for them to defy their master’s orders as they become educated. One day, his master saw that the Mistress of the house was teaching Douglass to read. She was immediately warned by her husband to stop because it was illegal. As the slaves learn to read and write, they cannot be controlled. Thus, it ended his early education. However, this did not deter his goal to learn to read. Whenever he was sent on an errand, he would pass by his friends. These are white boys who went to school. He asked their help to teach him how to read. As he did this often, he slowly learned to read but did it only secretly.
Colonel Lloyd had many slaves. Only those trusted slaves were sent on errand to the Great Farm House. Along the way, they would sing loudly expressing their feelings. Douglass commented, “Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance
meant to him when he said, “to those songs traced my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception” (Douglass 12). At this stage as a young boy, he has formed images and thoughts in his sub-conscious mind the demeaning factor brought by slavery.
Leaving the Great House Farm
When his master died, the wealth was divided between his children. This included the separation and assignment of slaves to a new master. In the plantation, there was sufficiency of food. After the division of slaves, he was sent to Master Thomas. He was a mean man. He did not feed his slaves well. Most of the time, they would go to neighbors for food. Douglass wrote, “Not to give a slave enough to eat, is regarded as the most aggravated development of meanness even among slaveholders” (Douglass 45). The current situation heightened his hatred for slavery. Thomas was a slaveholder but did not have the good ability to care for his slaves. He attended the Methodist camp-meeting in August, 1832. They were hoping that he will become better. On the contrary, he used religion to sanction his cruelty among his slaves.
Under New Master Edward Covey
One day, his carelessness made his master’s horse ran away. As a consequence, he was given away to Mr. Edward Covey. Mr. Covey was known to be a “negro-breaker”. He sent Frederick Douglass as a farm hand. Douglass was never a farm hand before and never knew how to work in the farm. He received constant whipping and beating from Covey due to his awkwardness. He complained saying, “if at any time of my life more than another, I was made to drink the bitterness of dregs of slavery and that time was with Mr. Covey” (Douglass 55). Frederick Douglass received constant whipping from his master, Mr. Covey. In his desperation, he ended up with this supplication to the Lord Almighty. He prayed.
“O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute!.. I am left in the hottest hell
of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there
any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it” (Douglass 56).
He abhorred the treatment of his master degrading him to an animal. He still continued to work in the farm with all bitterness and silently desiring to be free. Douglass was assigned to many tasks in the farm. On a hot summer day in August, 1833, he was sent to assist Mr. Hughes with Bill Smith in fanning the wheat. Due to the heat, he was feeling dizzy and could not shovel more hay. He suddenly fell to the ground. Covey saw him from afar. He went to them and asked why Douglass was not helping. The other slaves gave the reason that he was sick. Covey ordered him to stand up to work. Again Douglass fell. This time, Covey got a hickory slat and made a hard blow on Douglass’ head causing much blood to flow. Douglass rushed to the woods and ended up in Sandy Jenkin’s house for the night. The following day, he came back to Covey’s place. Covey thinking that he came back for food, prepared now to whipped and hit him hard. Suddenly, a change of mind occurred to Douglass. He retaliated and fought back furiously. They fought for two hours. He wrote, “Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, and could do what he pleased; but at this moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected that Covey seemed taken all aback” (Douglass 62). This incident became the turning-point and made a great change in his life as a slave. “It has rekindled his aspirations for freedom and revived his manhood” (Douglass 62), and he added, “it was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom” (Douglass 63). Frederick Douglass was surprised of his unexpected rush for self defense. As he mentioned earlier, Mr. Covey was successful in breaking his body, soul and spirit. The inner self of wanting to be free includes the cognizance of the body to collaborate with the mind. Although Douglass was crushed in spirit, his dreams and hope for freedom still lurks within him when he mentioned, “I was tempted to take my life and Covey but was prevented by a combination of hope and fear (Douglass 55-56). Like the other slaves, their woes were expressed in songs. This is the reason why these songs move him and remind of his hatred for slavery. Douglass could not accept that man is brought low to the level of brutes, as he stated in the quotation. This desire to be free was more than his will to protect his physical body. He knew the repercussions of fighting back, much more to hit his Master. To Douglass, it was payback time for being treated like an animal for the past six months. The will to survive and protect one’s life is inherent in men. But man is composed of body, soul and spirit. Although reasoning prevented him to fight back his master, his body would not take more whipping and physical mutilation. This was not only crushing the spirit but killing the inner man. When pushed to the limits, his values outweigh his will to protect the body because the will to survive embodies the preservation of everything that makes him who he is, body, soul and spirit. We learn from Douglass, respect for mankind. There is a limit to everything. Against all odds, men are still like animals. Men fight back when he is faced with a dead end. The dehumanizing treatment of slaveholders such as hunger after a heavy day’s work, constant beating and lashing of the whip proved to be a slow death for Douglass. His anguish and lamentation to the Lord expressing his desire to be free as a man was manifested in his retaliation and freedom fight with Master Covey.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845. Ebook. 29 Jan. 2015.
Vox, Lisa. The Start of Slavery in North America. Web. 30 January 2015 http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/index.html
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