Explain what qualities Douglass would include in a definition of manhood in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is really fascinating.  I think you will find many different responses to this question.  I think that a definition of "manhood" according to Douglass would have to include possessing awareness of a man's identity.  For Douglass, a man is a person who must acknowledge and face the demons of their past in order to chart as course towards a successful future.  Ignorance of the past, regardless of reason, would make a man less of one.  Douglass embodies this reckoning with the past.  He is honest enough to know really know his full age.  This is something from which Douglass does not shy.  Additionally, he is forthcoming  about the painful condition of his birth and the separation from his mother, a woman who would walk miles back to the plantation in order to sleep by her son's side.  Such a startling revelation helps to forge Douglass' identity, and would help to enhance his definition of what it means to be a "man."  At the same time, I think that Douglass would argue that masculinity is a state of being that can only be fully recognized when as many opportunities as possible are seized.  Literacy would be one such opportunity, as being able to read and write opens more doors than not possessing this skill.  Douglass' experience with Sophia Auld, someone who starts out benevolent only to be poisoned with the venom of slavery later on, is rooted in his learning how to read and write.  From this, Douglass is able to seize the opportunity of an entirely new world, one that gave birth to his own written narrative.  Being able to seize such opportunities would be a part of his definition of masculinity. Douglass would argue that masculinity has to be defined with the past in mind, so that the future is given shape and form.

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