Commentary on the Slave Narrative by Frederick Douglass

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Sid Rai

        IB English


Commentary on a passage from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and American slave, written in first person by Frederick Douglass, establishes an image of the great divide in classes between the white people of America and the black’s that where ‘imported’ into the southern parts as a good. It shows the discrimination of the blacks who where being used as slaves by their white owners who, for the most part, would whip them and beat them for no reason or mistake not even big enough for an animal to receive such punishments. Frederick Douglass had a somewhat better circumstance compared to other slaves that are mentioned. He was whipped less frequently and was recently in Baltimore under a not-so-harsh master and mistress, where he picked up reading and writing. However, he having knowledge angered him to some extent. Douglass longed for freedom, yet, despite being in so much of a better position than his fellow slaves, he cannot get it. He took out his emotions on the ships he would see going along the Chesapeake Bay. Within the given passage, there lie larger issues than just a slave screaming at ships. The anger of Frederick towards the ship symbolizes the anger of most, if not all slaves towards freedom. Douglass symbolizes the slaves, with the ships symbolizing freedom. The context must be examined to ‘decipher’ the hidden messages.

Varying themes are clearly visible throughout the passage. The theme of slavery is conveniently juxtaposition to the ideas of freedom. The passage, when putting it into context, happens when Douglass has moved out of Baltimore to St. Michael’s, where he was under the control of Mr. Covey, a supposedly well known ‘slave-breaker’. More specifically, this passage occurs on a Sunday when Douglass has a day off and goes up to Chesapeake Bay and rekindles his ‘fire of freedom’ in some form or another. In the given passage, he compares his situation to that of the free ships. This is just more than Douglass speaking for himself; he speaks for the larger slave community in general. When Douglass says “You are loosed from your moorings and set free; I am fast in my chains and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle…I before the bloody whip…” (Douglass 106). He compares the general situation of every black slave and contrasts it with the ships that are docked at the bay; however, there is one difference in Frederick. He, unlike most slaves, has the will and determination to run away and get free, but deep down inside, again, unlike most slaves, knows that he must plan everything out in such a way that he doesn’t get caught.

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Douglass also fantasizes about what the freedom will be like when he does happen to get away, which emphasizes his fortitude to get free. This can be seen when he says “…when I get there, I shall not be required to have a pass; I can travel without being disturbed…” (Douglass, 107). Douglass uses realism to portray his image of freedom. He uses the example of no passes to show his accuracy of his knowledge to some extent. However, the knowledge seems to end there as Douglass uses a metonymy to rephrase his idea of carrying no passes. Due to ...

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