THE NARRATIVE OF FREDERICK Douglass and analysis

Analysis of Major Characters

Frederick Douglass

In the Narrative, Douglass acts as both the narrator and the protagonist, and he appears quite different in these two roles. The wide gulf between Douglass’s two personas is, in fact, the point of the Narrative: Douglass progresses from uneducated, oppressed slave to worldly and articulate political commentator. Douglass frequently dramatizes the difference between his older, more experienced self and his younger self through references to his relative ignorance and naïveté. One instance of this dramatization occurs when Douglass mocks how impressed he was as a young man to encounter the city of Annapolis—a city that now seems small to him by the standards of Northern industrial cities.

As the narrator, Douglass presents himself as a reasoned, rational figure. His tone is dry and he does not exaggerate. He is capable of seeing both sides of an issue, even the issue of slavery. Though he makes no excuses for slave owners, he does make an effort to present a realistic—if critical—account of how and why slavery operates. His humane vision allows him to separate slaveowning individuals from the institution that corrupts them. Moreover, Douglass as the narrator presents himself as capable of intricate and deep feeling. He allows his narrative to linger over the inexpressible emotions he and others have suffered, and he sometimes dramatizes his own tears.

Douglass as the protagonist of the Narrative is sometimes a strong character and at other times a sidelined presence. Douglass’s strength as a character fluctuates because Douglass the narrator sometimes presents his younger self as an interesting, unique case and sometimes as a typical, representative American slave. As a representative slave, Douglass’s individual characteristics matter less than the similarity of his circumstances to those of all other slaves, as when he describes the circumstances of his upbringing in Chapter I of the Narrative. Similarly, at times Douglass exists merely as a witness to scenes featuring other characters. These scenes are important to the Narrative not because of Douglass’s role in them, but because they present a composite portrait of the dehumanizing aspects of

Generally, Douglass the protagonist becomes a stronger presence as the Narrative proceeds. The protagonist Douglass exists in the Narrative as a character in process and flux, formed and reformed by such pivotal scenes as Captain Anthony’s whipping of Aunt Hester, Hugh Auld’s insistence that Douglass not be taught to read, and Douglass’s fight with Covey. Aunt Hester’s whipping introduces Douglass to the physical and psychic cruelty of slavery. He becomes committed to literacy after Hugh Auld’s order that Sophia Auld cease teaching him. Douglass then is reintegrated into slavery and loses his desire to learn at Thomas Auld’s and at Covey’s. Finally, Douglass reestablishes a sense of self and justice through his fight with Covey. Douglass thus emerges as a figure formed negatively by slavery and cruelty, and positively by literacy education and a controlled but aggressive insistence on rights.

Through this process, certain traits remain constant in young Douglass’s character. Though often isolated and alienated, Douglass remains largely optimistic about his fate and maintains a strong spiritual sense. He is exceptionally resourceful, as demonstrated by his untraditional self‑education. Finally, Douglass has a strong desire to help others, expressed in part through his commitment to improving the lives of his fellow slaves, as we see in the Sabbath school he runs while under the ownership of William Freeland.

Sophia Auld

Sophia Auld is one of the few characters, apart from Douglass himself, who changes throughout the course of the Narrative. Specifically, Sophia is transformed from a kind, caring woman who owns no slaves to an excessively cruel slave owner. On the one hand, she appears more realistic and humane than other characters because we see her character in process. On the other hand, Sophia comes to resemble less a character than an illustration of Douglass’s argument about slavery. Douglass uses the instance of Sophia’s transformation from kind to cruel as a message about the negative effects of slavery on slaveholders. Sophia also seems less realistic as a character because Douglass’s descriptions of her are rhetorically dramatic rather than realistic. Douglass’s initial description of Sophia idealizes her kind features, and his description of her character post-transformation equally dramatizes her demonic qualities.

Sophia’s gender affects her characterization in the Narrative. To nineteenth-century readers, it would have seemed natural for Sophia, as a female, to be sympathetic and loving. Consequently, it would have appeared all the more unnatural and undesirable for her to be transformed into an evil slave owner. Because many -nineteenth-century readers thought of maternal figures as the symbol of their society’s moral righteousness, corruption of a maternal figure—or disruption of her family structure—would point directly to moral problems in the society at large. In this regard, Sophia appears in the Narrative as a symbolic character as well as a realistic character. Her symbolism of a culture’s corruption is an important emotional component of Douglass’s larger argument against slavery.

Edward Covey

Edward Covey represents Douglass’s nemesis in the Narrative. Covey is a typical villain figure in that his cruelty is calculated. He is not a victim of the slavery mentality but a naturally evil man who finds an outlet for his cruelty in slaveholding. Covey is skilled and methodical in his physical punishment of his slaves, but he is even more skilled at psychological cruelty. While other slaveholders in the Narrative can be deceitful with their slaves, Covey uses deception as his primary method of dealing with them. He makes the slaves feel that they are under constant surveillance by lying to them and creeping around the fields in an effort to catch them being lazy.

One way in which Douglass portrays Covey as a villain is by depicting him as anti-Christian. The slaves call Covey “the snake,” in part because he sneaks through the grass, but also because this nickname is a reference to Satan’s appearance in the form of a snake in the biblical book of Genesis. Douglass also presents Covey as a false Christian. Covey tries to deceive himself and God into believing that he is a true Christian, but his evil actions reveal him to be a sinner. As Douglass associates himself with Christian faith, he heightens the sense of conflict between himself and Covey by showing Covey to be an enemy of Christianity itself.

As Douglass’s nemesis, Covey is the chief figure against whom Douglass defines himself. Douglass’s fight with Covey is the climax of the Narrative—it marks Douglass’s turning point from demoralized slave to confident, freedom-seeking man. Douglass achieves this transformation by matching and containing Covey’s own violence and by showing himself to be Covey’s opposite. Douglass thus emerges as brave man, while Covey is exposed as a coward. Douglass is shown to be capable of restraint, while Covey is revealed to be an excessive braggart. Finally, Douglass emerges as a leader of men, while Covey is shown to be an ineffectual master who cannot even enlist the aid of another slave, Bill, to help him.

Generally, Douglass the protagonist becomes a stronger presence as the Narrative proceeds. The protagonist Douglass exists in the Narrative as a character in process and flux, formed and reformed by such pivotal scenes as Captain Anthony’s whipping of Aunt Hester, Hugh Auld’s insistence that Douglass not be taught to read, and Douglass’s fight with Covey. Aunt Hester’s whipping introduces Douglass to the physical and psychic cruelty of slavery. He becomes committed to literacy after Hugh Auld’s order that Sophia Auld cease teaching him. Douglass then is reintegrated into slavery and loses his desire to learn at Thomas Auld’s and at Covey’s. Finally, Douglass reestablishes a sense of self and justice through his fight with Covey. Douglass thus emerges as a figure formed negatively by slavery and cruelty, and positively by literacy education and a controlled but aggressive insistence on rights.

Through this process, certain traits remain constant in young Douglass’s character. Though often isolated and alienated, Douglass remains largely optimistic about his fate and maintains a strong spiritual sense. He is exceptionally resourceful, as demonstrated by his untraditional self‑education. Finally, Douglass has a strong desire to help others, expressed in part through his commitment to improving the lives of his fellow slaves, as we see in the Sabbath school he runs while under the ownership of William Freeland.

Sophia Auld

Sophia Auld is one of the few characters, apart from Douglass himself, who changes throughout the course of the Narrative. Specifically, Sophia is transformed from a kind, caring woman who owns no slaves to an excessively cruel slave owner. On the one hand, she appears more realistic and humane than other characters because we see her character in process. On the other hand, Sophia comes to resemble less a character than an illustration of Douglass’s argument about slavery. Douglass uses the instance of Sophia’s transformation from kind to cruel as a message about the negative effects of slavery on slaveholders. Sophia also seems less realistic as a character because Douglass’s descriptions of her are rhetorically dramatic rather than realistic. Douglass’s initial description of Sophia idealizes her kind features, and his description of her character post-transformation equally dramatizes her demonic qualities.

Sophia’s gender affects her characterization in the Narrative. To nineteenth-century readers, it would have seemed natural for Sophia, as a female, to be sympathetic and loving. Consequently, it would have appeared all the more unnatural and undesirable for her to be transformed into an evil slave owner. Because many -nineteenth-century readers thought of maternal figures as the symbol of their society’s moral righteousness, corruption of a maternal figure—or disruption of her family structure—would point directly to moral problems in the society at large. In this regard, Sophia appears in the Narrative as a symbolic character as well as a realistic character. Her symbolism of a culture’s corruption is an important emotional component of Douglass’s larger argument against slavery.

Edward Covey

Edward Covey represents Douglass’s nemesis in the Narrative. Covey is a typical villain figure in that his cruelty is calculated. He is not a victim of the slavery mentality but a naturally evil man who finds an outlet for his cruelty in slaveholding. Covey is skilled and methodical in his physical punishment of his slaves, but he is even more skilled at psychological cruelty. While other slaveholders in the Narrative can be deceitful with their slaves, Covey uses deception as his primary method of dealing with them. He makes the slaves feel that they are under constant surveillance by lying to them and creeping around the fields in an effort to catch them being lazy.

One way in which Douglass portrays Covey as a villain is by depicting him as anti-Christian. The slaves call Covey “the snake,” in part because he sneaks through the grass, but also because this nickname is a reference to Satan’s appearance in the form of a snake in the biblical book of Genesis. Douglass also presents Covey as a false Christian. Covey tries to deceive himself and God into believing that he is a true Christian, but his evil actions reveal him to be a sinner. As Douglass associates himself with Christian faith, he heightens the sense of conflict between himself and Covey by showing Covey to be an enemy of Christianity itself.

As Douglass’s nemesis, Covey is the chief figure against whom Douglass defines himself. Douglass’s fight with Covey is the climax of the Narrative—it marks Douglass’s turning point from demoralized slave to confident, freedom-seeking man. Douglass achieves this transformation by matching and containing Covey’s own violence and by showing himself to be Covey’s opposite. Douglass thus emerges as brave man, while Covey is exposed as a coward. Douglass is shown to be capable of restraint, while Covey is revealed to be an excessive braggart. Finally, Douglass emerges as a leader of men, while Covey is shown to be an ineffectual master who cannot even enlist the aid of another slave, Bill, to help him.

Chapters I–II

Summary: Chapter I

I received the tidings of [my mother’s] death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

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Douglass was born in Talbot County, Maryland, though he does not know the year, as most slaves are not allowed to know their ages. Douglass remembers being unhappy and confused that white children knew their ages, but he was not allowed even to ask his own. He estimates, based on an overheard comment from his master, that he was born in or around 1818.

Douglass’s mother is Harriet Bailey, daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey. Douglass is separated from his mother soon after birth—a common practice among slave owners. Douglass assumes that this custom is intended to break the natural bond of affection between mother and child. He recalls that he only saw his mother on the rare occasions when she could walk twelve miles after dark to lie next to him at night. Harriet dies when Douglass is about seven. He is told about it afterward and is hardly affected by the news.

Douglass knows only that his father is a white man, though many people say that his master is his father. He explains that slaveholders often impregnate their female slaves. A law ensures that mixed‑race children become slaves like their mothers. Thus slaveholders actually profit from this practice of rape, as it increases the number of slaves they own. Douglass explains that such mixed‑race slaves have a worse lot than other slaves, as the slaveholder’s wife, insulted by their existence, ensures that they either suffer constantly or are sold off. Douglass considers that the existence of such a large population of mixed-race slaves contradicts arguments that justify American slavery through the supposed inferiority of the African race.

Douglass’s first master is Captain Anthony. The Captain’s overseer, Mr. Plummer, is a drunk and a cruel man who carries a whip and cudgel with him and often uses them on slaves. The Captain himself is cruel as well. Douglass recalls the Captain frequently whipping Douglass’s Aunt Hester. Douglass recalls feeling like both a witness to and a participant in the abuse the first time he ever saw it. He remembers this moment as his introduction into the hellish world of slavery. Douglass cannot, even now, describe what he felt while watching Aunt Hester’s whipping.

Douglass recalls a particularly violent episode of the Captain whipping Aunt Hester. The Captain calls for Hester at night and finds that she has gone out with a slave named Ned, against the Captain’s orders. Douglass implies that the Captain has a particular sexual interest in Hester, who is quite beautiful. The Captain brings Hester home, strips her to the waist, ties her, and whips her until her blood drips on the floor. Young Douglass is so terrified by the scene that he hides in a closet, hoping he will not be whipped next.

Summary: Chapter II

Douglass’s master, Captain Anthony, has two sons, Andrew and Richard, and a daughter, Lucretia, who is married to Captain Thomas Auld. They all live together in one house on a central plantation owned by Colonel Lloyd. Colonel Lloyd employs Captain Anthony as superintendent, meaning that Anthony supervises all of Lloyd’s overseers. Lloyd’s plantations raise tobacco, corn, and wheat. Captain Anthony and his son-in-law, Captain Auld, take the goods by ship to sell in Baltimore.

Lloyd owns about three to four hundred slaves in total. All slaves report to Lloyd’s central plantation for their monthly allowances of pork or fish and corn meal. Slaves receive one set of linen clothing for the year. Adult slaves receive one blanket, but no bed. The floor is uncomfortable, but the slaves are so exhausted from work that they hardly notice. The overseer of Captain Anthony’s farm is Mr. Severe—an appropriate name for such a cruel man. After Severe dies, Mr. Hopkins replaces him as overseer. Hopkins is less cruel and profane than Severe and is considered a fair overseer.

All of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves refer to the central plantation, on which Douglass grew up, as the “Great House Farm” because it resembles a small village. Slaves from other plantations feel privileged to be sent to the Great House Farm on an errand. Douglass likens these slaves to state representatives proud to serve in the American Congress.

Slaves on their way to the Great House Farm usually sing wild, spontaneous songs that sound both joyful and sad. Douglass explains that he did not know the underlying meaning of these songs while he was a slave, but now understands that the songs are a bitter complaint about slavery. Douglass is now often moved to tears hearing them, and it was while listening to the songs that he first begins to understand the evil of slavery. Northerners who believe that the slaves are singing out of happiness, he says, are misinformed.

I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. . . .

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Analysis: Chapters I–II

The first paragraph of Douglass’s Narrative demonstrates the double purpose of the work as both a personal account and a public argument. Douglass introduces the reader to his own circumstances—his birthplace and the fact that he does not know his own age. He then generalizes from his own experience, explaining that almost no slaves know their true ages. Next, Douglass takes this detail of his experience and analyzes it. He points out that slave owners deliberately keep their slaves ignorant, and that this is a tactic whites use to gain power over slaves. This is the recurrent structure Douglass uses in his Narrative: he presents his personal experience as a typical slave experience, and then usually makes an analytical point about the experience and what it tells us about how slavery works and why it is wrong.

The main tactic of Douglass’s antislavery argument in the Narrative is to analyze the institution of slavery and show how and why it works. This analysis demystifies slavery and reveals its brutality and wrongness. To many people who were not abolitionists, slavery appeared an entirely natural practice. To them, religious and economic arguments had demonstrated that blacks were inherently inferior to whites and belonged as an enslaved labor force. Douglass makes a clear case that slavery is sustained not through the natural superiority of whites, but through many concrete and contrived strategies of gaining and holding power over blacks. For example, Douglass shows how slave owners make slaves vulnerable by taking them from their mothers. Blacks are not subhuman to begin with, but are dehumanized only by such cruel practices of slavery.

Douglass also intends to use the Narrative to expose the even more evil underside of slavery. He writes to educate white audiences about what really goes on at slave plantations, including more cruel and depraved behaviors. For example, he devotes several paragraphs in Chapter I to a discussion about white slave owners impregnating their slaves. Douglass’s narrative technique here is not sensationalist. He does not seek to overly shock or titillate his readers. He does not, for example, dwell on the implied rapes of black women, but rather upon the practical fate of their children. He seeks instead to present a practice and explain how it degrades both slaves and slave owners. Douglass often returns to this theme, depicting slavery as dehumanizing to both slaveholders and slaves.

Douglass associates his witnessing of Captain Anthony whipping Aunt Hester with his mental initiation into the horror of slavery. Douglass describes the effect of this scene upon his young self and uses this scene to help explain how slavery works. Part of the pain for Douglass was not simply watching the whipping, but being unable to stop it. He presents slavery as not only a type of physical control, but also a type of mental control. Slaves become virtual participants in brutality because they are made to fear for their own safety too much to stop it. Douglass highlights these psychologically damaging effects of slavery as much as physical effects such as lash wounds.

The scene of Captain Anthony stripping and whipping Aunt Hester is the first of several scenes that feature the abuse of women. Douglass often uses scenes of the abuse of female slaves to depict the brutality of slave owners. Together, these images of whipped or beaten female bodies constitute a motif in Douglass’s Narrative. The motif serves as an emotionally affecting, rather than logic-based, argument about the evils of slavery. Additionally, Douglass’s use of women in his imagery serves to safely distance Douglass himself from the dehumanized and demeaned body of the slave.

Douglass likewise maintains distance between himself and slavery in his commentary on slave songs. He explains that he did not fully understand the meaning of the songs when he himself was a slave, but can now recognize and interpret them as laments. Douglass’s voice in the Narrative is authoritative, and this authority comes from his standing as someone who has escaped mental and physical slavery and embraced education and articulation. Douglass’s position as mediator between slaves and the Northern white reading audience rests on his doubleness of self. He must be both the demeaned self who experienced slavery and the liberated, educated self who can interpret the institution of slavery. This doubleness or fracturing of self is not without consequences, though. In his analysis of the slave songs, Douglass exhibits a sense of nostalgia for when he was part of the “circle” of singing slaves

 

Summary: Chapter III

Douglass continues detailing Colonel Lloyd’s home plantation where he grew up. Lloyd has a large cultivated garden that people from all over Maryland come to see. Some slaves can not resist eating fruit out of it. To prevent them, Lloyd puts tar on the fence surrounding the garden and whips any slave found with tar on him.

Colonel Lloyd also has an impressive stable with horses and carriages. The stable is run by two slaves, a father and son named old Barney and young Barney. The Colonel is picky about his horses and often whips both men for minute faults in the horses that even they themselves cannot even control. Despite the injustice of this system, the slaves can never complain. Colonel Lloyd insists that his slaves stand silent and afraid while he speaks and that they receive punishment without comment. Douglass recalls seeing old Barney kneel on the ground and receive more than thirty lashes. The whippings are often performed by one of the Colonel’s three sons or by one of his three sons‑in‑law.

Colonel Lloyd’s wealth is so great that he has never even seen some of the hundreds of slaves he owns. One day, the Colonel meets a slave traveling on the road. Lloyd, without identifying himself, asks the slave about his owner and how well he is treated. The slave responds that his owner is Colonel Lloyd, and that he is not treated well. Several weeks later, the slave is chained and sold to a Georgia slave trader for the offense to Lloyd. This is the punishment, Douglass concludes, that awaits slaves who tell the truth.

Douglass explains that many slaves, if asked, always report being contented with their life and their masters, for fear of punishment. This suppression of the truth is common to all people, slaves or free. Slaves sometimes truthfully speak well of their masters, too. It is also common for slaves to become competitive and prejudiced about their masters. Slaves sometimes argue over whose master is kinder, even if the masters are not kind at all.

Summary: Chapter IV

The second overseer at Captain Anthony’s, Mr. Hopkins, is fired after only a short time and replaced by Mr. Austin Gore. Mr. Gore is proud, ambitious, cunning, and cruel, and his domination over the slaves is total. He does not argue or hear protests and sometimes provokes slaves only for an excuse to punish them. Mr. Gore thrives on the Great House Farm. His ensures that all of the slaves bow down to him, while he, in turn, willingly bows down to the Colonel. Mr. Gore is a silent man, never joking as some overseers would. He performs barbaric deeds of punishment with a cool demeanor.

One day, Mr. Gore whips a slave named Demby, who then runs into a nearby creek to soothe the pain. Demby refuses to come out of the creek, and Mr. Gore gives Demby a three‑count to return. When Demby makes no response after each call, Mr. Gore promptly shoots him. When questioned about his actions, Mr. Gore calmly explains that Demby was setting a bad example for the rest of the slaves. Mr. Gore is never investigated for this murder, and he still lives free. Douglass points out with irony that Mr. Gore is respected for his talent as an overseer.

Douglass offers several examples similar to Mr. Gore’s killing of Demby. Mr. Thomas Lanman of Maryland has boasted of violently killing two slaves, yet has never been investigated for the crimes. Also in Maryland, the wife of another slave owner beat Douglass’s wife’s cousin to death with a stick. The community issued a warrant for the arrest of the wife, but the warrant has never been served. Colonel Lloyd’s neighbor, Mr. Beal Bondly, shot and killed an elderly slave of Colonel Lloyd’s who was fishing on Bondly’s property. Colonel Lloyd did not complain about the killing.

 

Analysis: Chapters III–IV

Because the Narrative is both an autobiography and a treatise against slavery, Douglass often incorporates general information, including stories about, or heard from, people that he knew. Therefore, several of the opening chapters of the Narrative do not focus on Douglass at all. In Chapters III and IV, Douglass focuses on Colonel Lloyd’s impressive plantation. Such detail serves not only to set the scene for Douglass’s childhood, but also to verify the authenticity of the Narrative. We must remember that many nineteenth‑century readers—especially readers unsympathetic to the plight of slaves—would have doubted the authenticity of Douglass’s Narrative. The public was particularly skeptical of Douglass because he was more articulate than they thought a slave could be. Douglass extensively uses details of setting and character to reinforce the truthfulness of his Narrative, as Garrison and Phillips both point out in their prefaces.

As Douglass spends so much time describing scenes featuring other figures, such as Demby, the Narrative at times resembles a picaresque novel rather than an autobiography. Picaresque novels typically feature a series of episodes held together simply because they all happened to a single character. Douglass is still the character holding together his disparate scenes, as he either witnessed or heard about each of them. Douglass’s technique in rendering the scenes also invites the comparison to a picaresque novel. His depictions include novelistic detail, as when old Barney removes his hat to reveal his bald head before being whipped. Similarly, Douglass’s depiction of Mr. Gore shooting Demby has the dramatic sequence of fiction. Douglass shows us the scene, recounting each of Mr. Gore’s three counts and Demby’s reaction after each count.

Douglass also uses the stories of other slaves to make an argument about the inhumanity of slavery. After Douglass recounts Mr. Gore’s murder of Demby, he includes several similar stories, such as Mrs. Hick killing her female servant and Beal Bondly killing one of Colonel Lloyd’s elderly slaves. These additional scenes serve to support Douglass’s claims about slavery. Douglass is attempting to convince white Northerners that the events he witnessed—such as a white man killing a black man and suffering no legal consequences—are the normative practice. Supplementary scenarios reinforce this sense of commonality.

Perhaps the main theme of Douglass’s Narrative is that slavery dehumanizes men mentally as well as physically. To make this point, Douglass carefully documents the psychological violence of slaveholding. In Chapters III and IV, he focuses on the damaging effects of slaveholders’ inconsistency of punishment. He explains how masters often whip slaves when the slaves least deserve it, but neglect to whip them when they most deserve it. Douglass also offers the example of Colonel Lloyd meeting one of his own slaves, unknown to him, in the road. The slave speaks ill of his master, Colonel Lloyd, and is punished for it, but not until several weeks later. This delay of punishment makes the act seem separate from the consequence for the slave. In order to survive, then, slaves must become paranoid and must endure the feeling that they will be punished regardless of their actions.

Once Douglass identifies the mind games that masters play with slaves, he can explain the common actions of slaves as normal human responses under the circumstances. In Chapter III, Douglass addresses some of the less appealing characteristics and actions of slaves, such as prejudice and dishonesty. Douglass explains these actions as natural responses to the slaveholders’ treatment of their slaves. He points out that all of these traits are shared by whites and by all humans. Douglass attempts to make his white readers see the slaves as human beings possessed with both reason and emotion—as individuals whose actions are explainable.

When describing the career of the cruel overseer Mr. Gore, Douglass uses an increasingly ironic tone. Irony occurs when the implicit meaning of a statement differs from what is actually asserted. Thus, when Douglass says that Mr. Gore is “what is called a first‑rate overseer,” he implies that Mr. Gore is a good overseer only to those with no sense of justice. Douglass implies that reasonable people recognize that Mr. Gore is a cruel man. Douglass frequently uses this ironic tone in the Narrative to highlight the discrepancy between supposed and actual justice.

5-6

 

 

Douglass does not work in the fields as a child because children are not strong enough. He has some free time outside his regular tasks. Douglass often accompanies the Colonel’s grandson, Daniel, as a servant on hunting expeditions. Daniel eventually becomes attached to Douglass, which is to Douglass’s advantage. Douglass still suffers, though. Slave children are given no other clothing but a long linen shirt. The cold of the winters so harms Douglass’s feet that he could insert the pen he now writes with into the cracks of his flesh. Children eat corn mush out of a communal trough, so only the strongest children get enough to eat.

At the age of seven or eight, Douglass is selected to go to Baltimore to live with Captain Anthony’s son‑in‑law’s brother, Hugh Auld. For three days, Douglass happily prepares to leave Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. He cleans himself thoroughly and is rewarded with his first pair of trousers from Lucretia Auld, Captain Anthony’s daughter. Douglass is not sad to leave the plantation, as he has no family ties or sense of home, like children usually have. He also feels he has nothing to lose, because even if his new home in Baltimore is full of hardship, it can be no worse than the hardships he has already seen and endured on the plantation. Additionally, Baltimore seems to be a place of promise. Douglass’s cousin Tom describes to Douglass the impressive beauty of the city.

Douglass sails on the river to Baltimore on a Saturday morning. He looks once back on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, hoping it will be the last time he sees it. He then sets his sights ahead in the distance. The ship docks at Annapolis first, briefly. Douglass recalls being thoroughly impressed by its size, though in retrospect Annapolis now seems small compared to Northern industrial cities. The ship reaches Baltimore on Sunday morning, and Douglass arrives at his new home. At the Aulds’ he is greeted by the kindly face of Mrs. Sophia Auld, her husband, Hugh Auld, and their son, Thomas Auld, who is to be -Douglass’s master.

Douglass considers his transfer to Baltimore a gift of providence. If he had not been removed from Colonel Lloyd’s plantation at that time, Douglass believes he would still be a slave today, rather than a man sitting freely in his home writing his autobiography. Douglass realizes that he may appear superstitious or self‑centered to suppose that providence had a hand in his delivery to Baltimore, but the feeling is still strong. From his earliest memory, Douglass recalls sensing that he would not be a slave forever. This sense gives him hope in hard times, and he considers it a gift from God.

Summary: Chapter VI

Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master.

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Douglass is astounded by the strange kindness of his new mistress, Sophia Auld. Mrs. Auld has never owned a slave before and seems untouched by the evils of slavery. Douglass is confused by her. Unlike other white women, she does not appreciate his subservience and does not punish him for looking her in the eye. Yet, after some time, the disease of slaveholding overtakes Mrs. Auld too. Her kindness turns to cruelty, and she is utterly changed as a person.

When Douglass first comes to live with the Aulds, Mrs. Auld begins to teach him the alphabet and some small words. When Hugh Auld realizes what she is doing, he orders her to stop immediately, saying that education ruins slaves, making them unmanageable and unhappy. Douglass overhears Mr. Auld and experiences a sudden revelation of the strategy white men use to enslave blacks. He now understands what he must do to win his freedom. Douglass is thankful to Hugh Auld for this enlightenment.

Slaves in the city enjoy relatively greater freedom than plantation slaves. Urban slave owners are careful not to appear cruel or neglectful to slaves in the eyes of non‑slaveholding whites. Exceptions to this rule certainly exist, however. The Hamiltons, for example, neighbors of the Aulds, mistreat their two young slaves, Henrietta and Mary. The women’s bodies are starved and mangled from Mrs. Hamilton’s regular beatings. Douglass himself witnesses Mrs. Hamilton’s brutal treatment of the girls.

Analysis: Chapters V–VI

In Chapter V, the Narrative returns its focus to Douglass’s personal history and away from information or anecdotes about others. Douglass describes his own treatment on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. He is frank about the relative ease of his experience as compared to the adult slaves who worked in the fields. Douglass’s candor about the relative lack of hardship he endured as a young slave makes his whole account seem more realistic and truthful. He maintains this frank and moderate tone throughout the Narrative.

Douglass uses a striking image to describe the frostbite wounds he suffered as a child, as it dramatizes his doubleness of self. He describes how the pen with which he is now writing could fit inside the cracks on his foot he suffered from the cold. In the Narrative, Douglass typically maintains a dichotomy between his free, educated, literate self—which does not appear as a body—and the abused body of his unenlightened slave self. In his image of the pen in the gash, however, Douglass momentarily collapses the distance between his two selves, suggesting that the distinction between the two is not always clear.

Douglass’s relocation to Baltimore is the first major change in his life, and the shift of setting introduces the notion of the greater freedom of cities versus the countryside. Citiesand especially Northern citiesin the Narrative offer enlightenment, prosperity, and a degree of social freedom. Only in cities is Douglass able to connect with different kinds of people and new intellectual ideas. By contrast, the countryside appears in the Narrative as a place of extremely limited freedom. In rural areas, slaves have less mobility and are more closely watched by slave owners. This motif contributes to the movement of the Narrative: Douglass is symbolically closest to Northern freedom when in the city of Baltimore, and is symbolically furthest from freedom when in rural areas.

While Douglass’s Narrative shows that slavery dehumanizes slaves, it also advances the idea that slavery adversely affects slave owners. Douglass makes this point in previous chapters by showing the damaging self‑deceptions that slave owners must construct to keep their minds at ease. These self‑deceptions build upon one another until slave owners are left without religion or reason, with hypocrisy as the basis of their existence. Douglass uses the figure of Sophia Auld to illustrate this process. When Douglass arrives to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld, Sophia treats Douglass as nearly an equal to her own son. Soon, however, Hugh schools Sophia in the ways of slavery, teaching her the immoral slave‑master relationship that gives one individual complete power over another. Douglass depicts Sophia’s transformation in horrific terms. She seems to lose all human qualities and to become an evil, inhuman being. Douglass presents Sophia as much a victim of the institution of slavery as Douglass himself is.

The fact that Sophia is a woman helps Douglass’s portrayal of her as a victim of slavery. It is significant that the male slaveholders of Douglass’s Narrative, even Hugh Auld, all appear to be already schooled in the vice of slavery. Women, and Sophia especially, exist in Douglass’s Narrative as idealistically sympathetic and virtuous beings—a gender stereotype common in nineteenth‑century culture. Thus Sophia becomes, along with the slaves themselves, an object of sympathy for Douglass’s readers. The readers’ horror and regret for Sophia’s lost kindness reinforces their sense that slavery is unnatural and evil.

The first pivotal moment in Douglass’s mental life is in Chapter I, when he is initiated into the horrors of slavery by seeing Captain Anthony whip Aunt Hester. The second turning point in Douglass’s youth occurs when Hugh Auld refuses to allow Douglass to become educated. Before this moment, Douglass has known intuitively that slavery is evil, but has been mystified by the logic of how slavery works. Hugh Auld’s pronouncement that education ruins slaves enlightens Douglass. He suddenly understands that slave owners gain and keep power over slaves by depriving slaves of education and ideas. Douglass realizes that he must become educated to become free. The idea that education is the means to freedom is a major theme in the Narrative.

Douglass presents his revelation about the importance of education as a moment of both alignment with and opposition to Hugh Auld. Though it is Sophia Auld who has been teaching Douglass to read, Douglass values Hugh Auld’s lesson more. Douglass presents the moment as a rejection of feminine lessons in favor of masculine authoritative knowledge. Douglass further aligns himself with Hugh Auld by pledging to place himself in opposition to Auld. A series of rhetorical antitheses pair the two, such as “What [Hugh Auld] most loved, that I most hated.” Throughout the Narrative, Douglass’s progress rests on this focus on white male authority.

7-8Douglass lives in Hugh Auld’s household for about seven years. During this time, he is able to learn how to read and write, though Mrs. Auld is hardened and no longer tutors him. Slavery hurts Mrs. Auld as much as it hurts Douglass himself. The mentality of slavery strips her of her inherent piety and sympathy for others, making her hardened and cruel.

However, Douglass has already learned the alphabet and is determined to learn how to read. He gives bread to poor local boys in exchange for reading lessons. Douglass writes that he is now tempted to thank these boys by name, but he knows that they would suffer for it, as teaching blacks still constitutes an offense. Douglass recalls the boys sympathetically agreeing that he no more deserved to be a slave than they did themselves.

At around the age of twelve, Douglass encounters a book called The Columbian Orator, which contains a philosophical dialogue between a master and a slave. In the dialogue, the master lays out the argument for slavery, and the slave refutes each point, eventually convincing the master to release him. The book also contains a reprint of a speech arguing for the emancipation of Irish Catholics and for human rights generally. The book helps Douglass to fully articulate the case against slavery, but it also makes him hate his masters more and more. This dilemma is difficult position for Douglass and often fills him with regret. As Hugh Auld predicted, Douglass’s discontent is painfully acute now that he understands the injustice of his situation but still has no means by which to escape it. Douglass enters a period of nearly suicidal despair.

During this period, Douglass eagerly listens to anyone discussing slavery. He often hears the word “abolitionist.” In a city newspaper account of a Northern abolitionist petition, Douglass finally discovers that the word means “antislavery.”

One day around this time, Douglass kindly helps two Irish sailors at the wharf without being asked. When they realize that Douglass is doomed to be a slave for life, the sailors encourage him to run away to the North. Douglass does not respond to them, for fear they might be trying to trick him. White men are known to encourage slaves to escape and then recapture them for the reward money. But the idea of escape nonetheless sticks in Douglass’s head.

Meanwhile, Douglass sets out to learn how to write. After watching ships’ carpenters write single letters on lumber, Douglass learns to form several letters. He practices his letters on fences, walls, and the ground around the city. He approaches local boys and starts contests over who can write the best. Douglass writes what he can and learns from what the boys write. Soon, he can copy from the dictionary. When the Aulds leave Douglass alone in the house, he writes in Thomas Auld’s old discarded copybooks. In this painstaking manner, Douglass eventually learns to write.

Summary: Chapter VIII

During Douglass’s first several years in Baltimore, his old master, Captain Anthony, dies. When Douglass is between ten and eleven years old, he is returned to the plantation to be appraised among the other slaves and the livestock, which are to be divided between Captain Anthony’s surviving children, Mrs. Lucretia Auld and Andrew Anthony. Douglass is apprehensive about leaving Baltimore because he knows his life in the city is preferable to the plantation.

The valuation of the slaves is humiliating, as they are inspected alongside the livestock. All the slaves are anxious, knowing they are to be divided regardless of marriages, family, and friendships. Master Andrew is known for his cruelty and drunkenness, so everyone hopes to avoid becoming his property. Since Douglass’s return to the plantation, he has seen Master Andrew kick Douglass’s younger brother in the head until he bled. Master Andrew has threatened to do the same to Douglass.

Luckily, Douglass is assigned to Mrs. Lucretia Auld, who sends him back to Baltimore. Soon after Douglass returns there, Mrs. Lucretia and Master Andrew both die, leaving all the Anthony family property in the hands of strangers. Neither Lucretia nor Andrew frees any of the slaves before dying—not even Douglass’s grandmother, who nurtured Master Andrew from infancy to death. Because Douglass’s grandmother is deemed too old to work in the fields, her new owners abandon her in a small hut in the woods. Douglass bemoans this cruel fate. He imagines that if his grandmother were still alive today, she would be cold and lonely, mourning the loss of her children.

About two years after the death of Lucretia Auld, her husband, Thomas Auld, remarries. Soon after the marriage, Thomas has a falling out with his brother, Hugh, and punishes Hugh by reclaiming Douglass. Douglass is not sorry to leave Hugh and Sophia Auld, as Hugh has become a drunk and Sophia has become cruel. But Douglass is sorry to leave the local boys, who have become his friends and teachers.

While sailing from Baltimore back to the Eastern Shore of -Maryland, Douglass pays particular attention to the route of the ships heading north to Philadelphia. He resolves to escape at the -earliest opportunity.

Analysis: Chapters VII–VIII

In Chapters VII and VIII, Douglass relates events slightly out of chronological order, again disrupting the Narrative’s appearance of -autobiography. His brief return to the plantation, recounted in Chapter VIII, actually takes place before he reads The Colombian Orator, recounted in Chapter VII. Douglass records the events out of order because he favors thematic consistency over strict chronology. As Chapter VI deals with Hugh Auld forbidding Sophia to teach Douglass to read, Chapter VII addresses Douglass’s self-education and the fulfillment of Hugh Auld’s predictions of unhappiness.

Chapter VII elaborates the idea that with education comes enlightenment—specifically, enlightenment about the oppressive and wrong nature of slavery. Douglass’s reading lessons and acts of reading are, therefore, contiguous with his growing understanding of the social injustice of slavery. Douglass gets his first reading lessons from neighborhood boys and also engages in discussions about the institution of slavery with them. These boys not only provide the means of Douglass’s education, but also support his growing political convictions. In this way, Douglass depicts each step in his educational process as a simultaneous step in philosophical and political enlightenment.

Douglass’s encounter with The Columbian Orator represents the main event of Douglass’s educational and philosophical growth. This book features both a Socratic‑style dialogue between an archetypal “master” and “slave” and a speech in favor of Irish Catholic emancipation. Douglass has a sense of the inhumanity of slavery before he reads The Columbian Orator, but the book gives him a clear articulation of the political and philosophical argument against slavery and in favor of human rights. It allows Douglass to formulate his personal thoughts and convictions about slavery. However, the book also causes Douglass to detest his masters. Painfully, he understands the injustice of his position, but has no immediate means of escape. In this regard, Douglass fulfills Hugh Auld’s prediction that educated slaves become unhappy. Douglass’s unhappiness shows that education does not directly bring freedom. His new consciousness of injustice has drawbacks, and intellectual freedom is not the same as physical freedom.

Chapters VII and VIII further develop the Narrative’s motif of the greater freedom of the city compared to the countryside. Chapter VII takes place in Baltimore and features Douglass’s free movements and self-education. Douglass hardly discusses the Aulds or their cruel treatment in Chapter VII. Instead, he focuses on his intellectually fruitful interactions with people around the city, such as neighborhood boys and dock workers. Chapter VIII, however, deals with Douglass’s time in the countryside. First, Douglass discusses his brief trip back to the Eastern Shore around age ten and then his return to Thomas Auld’s plantation three years later. These disparate historical events are out of chronological order with the events of Chapter VII. They are united in one chapter because of their common rural setting. Douglass portrays the oppressive atmosphere of the rural plantation, where slaves are closely watched, harshly punished, and treated as property.

In Chapter VIII, Douglass elaborates on the idea of slave owners treating slaves as property through his depiction of the valuation of Captain Anthony’s slaves. Douglass ironically describes how Captain Anthony’s slaves are lined up alongside the livestock to be valued in the same manner. Douglass’s irony points to the absurdity of treating humans as animals. Douglass further develops this idea by showing how slaves are frequently passed from owner to owner as property. In Chapter VIII alone, Douglass is under the ownership of Captain Anthony, then Lucretia and Thomas Auld, then Hugh Auld, and then Thomas Auld once again. Douglass’s extended description of the Anthony family’s treatment of his grandmother particularly develops this motif of ownership. Though Douglass’s grandmother lovingly tends the Anthony children for her entire life, they do not grant her freedom even in her old age. Because slave owners value slaves only according to the amount labor they can do, Douglass’s grandmother’s new owners abandon the elderly woman.

Several times in his Narrative, Douglass breaks the conventions of his past‑tense autobiography to recreate a scene imaginatively. In his discussion of the treatment of his grandmother, Douglass imagines that she is still alive as he is writing. He creates an image of her stumbling around her small hut, waiting for death. This imagined scene works in the same ways as sentimental fiction. Douglass evokes the conventional scene of the home hearth surrounded by happy children to contrast it with the desolation of his grandmother’s life. Douglass’s grandmother becomes an object of sympathy—a sympathy meant to translate into outrage and political conviction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary: Chapter IX

Douglass arrives to live at Thomas Auld’s in March 1832. Life under Auld is particularly difficult because Auld does not give the slaves enough food. Douglass works in the kitchen alongside his sister, Eliza; his aunt, Priscilla; and another woman, Henny. They have to beg or steal food from neighbors to survive, though the Aulds always seem to have food wasting in the storehouse.

As a slave owner, Thomas Auld has absolutely no redeeming qualities. His meanness is in accord with the fact that he was not born with slaves, but acquired them through marriage. Douglass reports that adoptive slaveholders are notoriously the worst masters. Auld is inconsistent in his discipline and cowardly in his cruelty. In August 1832, Auld attends a Methodist camp meeting and suddenly becomes quite religious—and even more cruel. Some of the religious figures in the community, however, act kindly to slaves. One man named Mr. Wilson even runs a slave school until the community shuts it down. Auld, on the other hand, only uses his newfound piety to justify his cruelty to his slaves with added fervor.

While Douglass lives under Auld, he sometimes purposely lets Auld’s horse run away to a nearby farm. Douglass then goes to fetch the horse and eats a full meal at the neighboring farm. After this happens several times, Auld decides to rent Douglass to Edward Covey for one year. Covey is a poor man with a reputation for successfully taming problem slaves. Slave owners give Covey their slaves for one year, during which he “breaks” the slaves while using them as free labor on his land. Douglass knows of Covey’s sinister reputation, but looks forward to being fed sufficiently at Covey’s.

Summary: Chapter X

From the beginning of Chapter X through Douglass’s fight with Covey

Douglass arrives at Covey’s farm on January 1, 1833, and he is forced to work in the fields for the first time. His first task is to guide a team of unbroken oxen. The oxen are uncooperative, and Douglass barely escapes with his life. Finding that Douglass has failed, Covey orders him to take off his clothes and receive punishment. When Douglass does not respond, Covey rushes at him, tears his clothing off, and whips him repeatedly. Covey continues to whip Douglass almost weekly, usually as punishment for Douglass’s supposed “awkwardness.”

Covey’s slaves must work in the fields during all the daylight hours, with few breaks for meals. Unlike most slave owners, Covey often works in the fields with his slaves. He also has a habit of sneaking up on the slaves by crawling through the cornfield in an attempt to catch them resting. Because of this behavior, the slaves call him “the snake.”

Covey behaves deceitfully even in regard to his religion. His excessive piety seems designed to convince himself that he is a faithful man, even though he is guilty of blatant sins such as adultery. Covey owns one slave named Caroline whom he bought to be a “breeder.” Covey has hired a married man to sleep with Caroline every night so that she will produce more slaves for Covey to own.

Douglass recalls that he spent his hardest times as a slave during his first six months rented to Covey. Douglass becomes deadened by work, exhaustion, and Covey’s repeated punishments. Douglass loses his spirit, his intellect, his desire to learn, and his natural cheerfulness. Sunday is the slaves’ only leisure time, and Douglass usually spends the day in a stupor in the shade. He considers killing himself, or even Covey, but he is paralyzed by both hope and fear.

Covey’s house is situated near the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, where large ships with white sails travel past. To Douglass, these ships symbolize freedom, cruelly reminding him of his own enslaved condition. Douglass recalls standing on the bank and speaking aloud to the ships, asking them why they should be free and he enslaved. He begs for God’s deliverance and then wonders if there actually is a God. He vows to run away.

Having traced his dehumanization from a man into a slave, Douglass now recounts his transformation back into a man. In August 1833, on a particularly hot day, Douglass collapses from fatigue. Covey discovers him and kicks and hits him with a plank. Douglass resolves to return to Thomas Auld and complain about Covey. When Covey is not looking, Douglass starts to walk feebly to Auld’s. Douglass has blood pouring from his head and his progress is slow. He stays in the woods to avoid detection. Douglass finally arrives at Auld’s and complains about Covey’s behavior. At first Auld seems sympathetic, but then he insists that Douglass return to Covey’s.

When Douglass arrives back at Covey’s the next morning, Covey runs toward him with a whip. Douglass runs and hides in the cornfield among the stalks. Covey eventually gives up searching for him and leaves. Douglass returns to the woods, where he runs into Sandy Jenkins, a slave from a neighboring farm. Sandy is traveling to the home of his free wife, and he invites Douglass to come. At the house, Douglass explains his troubles to Sandy. Sandy advises Douglass to carry a certain magical root from the woods, explaining that the root will save him from white men’s beatings. Douglass is skeptical, but then decides it cannot hurt to try.

Douglass returns to Covey’s on Sunday morning with the root in hand. Covey, who is on his way to a religious meeting, speaks kindly to Douglass. Douglass begins to suspect that the root has worked. But on Monday morning, Covey finds Douglass in the stable and attempts to tie his legs. Douglass suddenly decides to fight back. He grabs Covey by the throat in an effort to keep Covey from tying and whipping him. Covey is terrified and calls for another slave, Hughes, to hold Douglass back. Hughes approaches, and Douglass kicks him down. Next, Covey calls on another slave, Bill, for aid, but Bill refuses. Douglass explains to Covey that he will not stand being treated like an animal any longer. The two men fight for two hours. Covey brags afterward that he whipped Douglass, but he did not. Covey never touches Douglass again.

[T]he dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Analysis: Chapters IX–X

In Chapter IX, Douglass uses the character of Thomas Auld to show that slaveholding is not a natural way of life. Because Auld was not born owning slaves, he must learn the techniques of being a slave master. Auld imitates the mannerisms of someone comfortable with power, but he is unsuccessful in his imitation. Both the slaves and Auld himself realize the falseness of his manner, and Auld becomes more cruel to compensate for his own inconsistency. Douglass shows that the power of slaveholders is created through role‑playing. Auld fails as a slaveholder because his role‑playing is unskilled. If power, then, consists only of the successful enactment of outward demeanor, actions, and words, it follows that slave-holding must not be part of the natural order.

Auld also serves as a vehicle for one of Douglass’s main themes in the Narrative—the dangerous alliance between slaveholders and false Christianity. Douglass recounts Auld’s religious conversion and notes that Auld’s cruelty increases after the conversion. Auld, like many others, creates an image of himself as an upstanding Christian. He uses this self-image to justify his actions toward his slaves. In turn, the church community benefits from Auld’s slaveholding wealth. Douglass is careful to point out that one or two members of Auld’s Christian community are truly religious people who display sympathy for the slaves. Thus Douglass sets up a dichotomy between “true” and “false” Christianity.

Douglass also presents Edward Covey as an example of a slave owner perverting Christianity. Covey considers himself a pious man, yet he has forced a female slave into adultery with a married man. With Covey, Douglass shows that this false Christianity can be a symptom of the negative effects of slaveholding on slave owners. Because of the evils Covey perpetrates against his slaves, he must deceive himself with elaborate displays of piety in order to preserve his sense of moral righteousness. Douglass presents this self–deception as a damaging way of life.

Douglass also points to the falseness of Covey’s Christianity by drawing parallels between Covey and Satan. The slaves refer to Covey as “the snake”—a nickname that is a clear reference to Satan in the Garden of Eden from the biblical story of Genesis. Covey’s cunning and deceitfulness further align him with the figure of Satan, undermining his professions of piety.

In Chapter X, Douglass’s Narrative clearly fits the conventions of several types of autobiography—the “underdog” story, the success story, and the religious conversion narrative. These subgenres usually portray the decline of the protagonist’s fortunes, followed by a climactic turning point in which the protagonist has some sort of revelation. The Narrative shows Douglass’s decline during his first six months with Covey, and at the end of this time, Douglass’s spirits are lower than ever. Douglass then presents his fight with Covey as the turning point in his life. Douglass highlights this moment as the climax of the Narrative by using a rhetorical phrase that hinges on a reversal of fortune: “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”

Douglass is vague about the role that Sandy’s magical root plays in his successful battle with Covey. Sandy’s root seems to symbolize a kind of religion different from Douglass’s own spiritual Christianity. Douglass associates the root with backward ideas—and possibly traditional African ideas. Douglass does not go so far as to say that the root has no effect, though, and he admits to having wondered about it. Douglass’s conflicted attitude toward the root arises again in Chapter XI. In a footnote, Douglass identifies Sandy as “superstitious,” attributing beliefs similar to Sandy’s belief in the root to “ignorant” slaves. Douglass’s authority in the Narrative relies on the distance between his writing self and his slave self, and the distance between himself and unenlightened slaves. Therefore, Douglass must ultimately dismiss the root as having no power.

Though the Narrative treats knowledge as the means to freedom, Douglass presents his transformation from slave to free man as an act of violence. Douglass regains his personal spirit, interest in learning, and conviction to be free by physically fighting against his oppressor, Covey. Yet Douglass’s violence takes the form of controlled violence or self‑defense. He does not advocate vengeance, but rather controlled confrontation. Through this contained aggression, Douglass asserts himself and achieves his larger goal—to end physical violence between Covey and himself.

The fight with Covey causes Douglass to regain his spirit and defiance, as well as his resolve to be free. He never receieves a whipping from anyone during his remaining four years as a slave. Douglass’s year with Covey ends on Christmas Day, 1833. It is customary for slaves to enjoy a holiday from Christmas to New Year’s. Slaveholders typically encourage slaves to spend the holiday drinking, rather than resting or working industriously for themselves. Douglass explains that this strategy helps keep blacks enslaved. By giving slaves a brief span of time each year to release their rebellious spirit, slaveholders keep them manageable for the rest of the year. By encouraging them to spend the holiday riotously drunk, slaveholders ensure that freedom comes to seem unappealing.

On January 1, 1834, Douglass is sent to live with Mr. William Freeland. Mr. Freeland, though quick‑tempered, is more consistently fair than Covey. Douglass is grateful that Mr. Freeland is not a hypocritically religious man. Many men in the community profess to be religious, but merely use their religion as justification for their cruelty to their slaves.

Freeland works his slaves hard, but treats them fairly. Douglass meets and befriends other slaves on Freeland’s property, including the intelligent brothers Henry and John Harris. Sandy Jenkins also lives at Freeland’s at this time, and Douglass reminds readers about Sandy’s root and reports that Sandy’s superstition is common among the more ignorant slaves.

Douglass soon succeeds in getting some of his fellow slaves interested in learning how to read. Word soon spreads, and Douglass surreptitiously begins to hold a Sabbath school in the cabin of a free black. This is a dangerous undertaking, as educating slaves is forbidden; the community violently shuts down a similar school run by a white man. Yet the slaves value their education so highly that they attend Douglass’s school despite the threat of punishment.

Douglass’s first year with Freeland passes smoothly. Douglass remembers Freeland as the best master he ever had. Douglass also attributes the comfort of the year to his solidarity with the other slaves. Douglass recalls that he loved them and that they operated together as a single community.

Though Douglass remains with Freeland for another year in 1835, by this time he desires his freedom more strongly than ever. Here Douglass puns on the comfort of living with “Freeland” as his master and his stronger desire to live on “free land.” Douglass, resolving to attempt an escape sometime during the year, sets about offering his fellow slaves the chance to join him. Douglass recalls how daunting the odds were for them. He describes their position as facing the bloody figure of slavery and glimpsing the doubtful, beckoning figure of freedom in the distance, with the intervening path full of hardship and death. Douglass points out that their decision was far more difficult than that of Patrick Henry, whose choice between death and an oppressed life—“Give me liberty or give me death”—was merely rhetorical. As slaves, Douglass and his companions had to choose doubtful liberty over nearly certain death.

The escape party consists of Douglass, Henry and John Harris, Henry Bailey, and Charles Roberts. Sandy Jenkins initially intends to accompany them, but eventually decides to remain. They plan to canoe up the Chesapeake Bay on the Saturday before Easter. Douglass writes travel passes, signed by their master, for each of them.

On the morning of their planned escape, Douglass works in the fields as usual. He soon feels overcome by a sense that their plan has been betrayed. Douglass tells Sandy Jenkins of his fear, and Sandy feels the same way. During breakfast, William Hamilton and several other men arrive at the house. They seize and tie Douglass and the rest of the escape party. The men transport their prisoners to Thomas Auld’s house. On the way, Douglass and the others speak together, agreeing to destroy their written passes and admit nothing.

At Thomas Auld’s, Douglass and the others learn that someone has betrayed them. Douglass writes that they immediately knew who the betrayer was, but he does not reveal who they suspected. The men are placed in jail. Slave traders arrive to taunt them and size them up as though to sell them. At the end of the Easter holidays, all the slaves but Douglass are taken home. Douglass remains in jail because he is identified as the leader and instigator. He begins to despair. At first, Thomas Auld announces his intent to send Douglass to Alabama. Then Auld suddenly changes his mind and sends Douglass back to Baltimore with Hugh Auld.

In Baltimore, Hugh Auld apprentices Douglass to a shipbuilder named William Gardner. Douglass is to learn the trade of ship caulking. Because Gardner’s shipyard is struggling to meet a deadline, however, Douglass becomes a helping hand for seventy-five different carpenters and learns no new skill. The carpenters -constantly summon and yell at Douglass, who cannot help them all at once. Tensions at the shipyard increase when the white carpenters suddenly strike to protest the free black carpenters who Gardner has hired. Gardner agrees to fire the free black carpenters. As an apprentice who is not free, Douglass continues working at Gardner’s, but he endures severe physical intimidation from the white apprentices.

One day, four white apprentices attack Douglass at the shipyard and nearly destroy his left eye. He starts to fight back but decides against it, as lynch law dictates that any black man who hits a white man may be killed. Instead, Douglass complains to Hugh Auld, who becomes surprisingly indignant on Douglass’s behalf. Auld takes Douglass with him to see a lawyer, but the lawyer informs them that no warrant may be issued without the testimony of a white man.

Douglass spends time at home recovering, and later he becomes an apprentice at Hugh Auld’s own shipyard. Douglass quickly learns caulking under Walter Price and soon earns the highest possible wage. Each week, Douglass turns over all his wages to Hugh Auld. Douglass compares Auld to a pirate who has a “right” to Douglass’s wages only because he has the power to compel Douglass to hand them over.

Analysis

The second half of Chapter X continues to shift between personal accounts and public arguments against slavery. Douglass moves from the personal account of the rest of the year under Covey to a general analysis of the “holiday” that slave owners give their slaves between Christmas and New Year’s. Generally, the public, or persuasive—sections of the Narrative generally either disprove pro‑-slavery arguments, present antislavery arguments, or disabuse readers of misinformation or misinterpretation about the practices of slave owners. Douglass’s analysis of the holiday time falls in this last category. To the uninformed observer, it would appear a positive thing that slave owners grant a holiday to their slaves. Douglass explains, however, that this seeming benevolence is part of the larger power structure of slavery. Slaveholders use holiday time to make their slaves disaffected with “freedom” and to keep them from revolting.

The figure of William Freeland stands in direct contrast to the rest of the slave owners in Douglass’s Narrative. Douglass’s previous masters have all shared one or both of two traits: hypocritical piety or inconsistent brutality. Douglass presents Freeland as a good slave owner because he lacks both of these vices. Freeland has no pretensions about religion and is consistent and fair in his treatment of his slaves. However, though Freeland is a good model for a slave owner, Douglass remains clear that slaveholding in any form is still unjust. He points to his dissatisfaction with Freeland in a pun on Freeland’s name. Instead of equating “Freeland” with “free land,” Douglass uses the pun to point out that belonging to “Freeland” is not as good a guarantee as living on “free land.”

Douglass’s experience under Freeland is also positive because he develops a social network of fellow slaves that during this time. Except for his friendship with the local boys in Baltimore, Douglass has been a figure of isolation and alienation in the Narrative. As an isolated figure, he appropriately resembles the protagonist of a traditional coming‑of‑age story. These autobiographical stories tend to privilege a model of heroic individualism over social interaction and support. In Chapter X, however, Douglass reveals the close friendships he develops at Freeland’s and shows that he relies on friends’ support. This model of social support competes with the model of heroic individualism through the end of Douglass’s Narrative. For example, Douglass’s first escape attempt involves several people and fails, whereas he presents his successful escape as the act of an individual.

In their prefaces to Douglass’s Narrative, Garrison and Phillips place Douglass in the context of the American Revolutionaries’ battle for rights and freedom. Douglass himself uses this context in Chapter X when he specifies that escaping slaves act more bravely than Patrick Henry did. Douglass alludes to Henry’s famous declaration, “Give me liberty or give me death.” While Henry faces a choice between political independence and oppression, escaping slaves must choose between two unattractive options—the familiar ills of slavery and the unknown dangers of escape. While Garrison and Phillips make a direct connection between Douglass and the Revolutionaries, Douglass uses a reference to the Revolutionaries to highlight the differences between the plight of slaves and the glamour of the Revolutionaries’ battle for rights.

For Douglass, the difference between the Revolutionaries and slaves is widened by the fact that slaves do not benefit from the citizen’s rights for which the Revolutionaries fought. When four of Gardner’s white apprentices attack Douglass, Douglass enjoys neither the right to defend himself nor the right see his attackers punished for their crime. Douglass ironically portrays his master Hugh Auld as naïvely surprised and indignant upon hearing the lawyer say that a slave has no right to stand witness against a white. The irony with which Douglass writes of American “human rights” in theory and in practice also seems present in the Narrative’s subtitle, An American Slave. The Narrative goes on to show that the words “American” and “slave” are contradictory: the rights afforded by the designation “American” are nonexistent for slaves.

In Chapter X we see Douglass working for wages for the first time. Previously, his labor translated into invisible profit for his masters, but when he begins apprenticing at shipyards, he begins to receive the monetary value of his labor. Douglass must must turn over these wages to Hugh Auld each week, however. The physical presence of the money Douglass earns with his labor reinforces his sense of the injustice of slavery. Hugh Auld comes to resemble a thief who steals what is not his, rather than an owner of property by which he profits.

 

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