What are five themes in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave?  

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

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There are several powerful themes that emerge from Frederick Douglass' narrative.  One such idea is the notion of change and how a young American social and political order will respond to it.  Douglass' work is quite transformative in that it demands to be heard, and that American political and social thought must recognize and adapt to such change.  The voice that emerges out of Douglass' work is not one that is apologetic or acquiescent to the Status Quo.  Rather, it seeks to challenge and redefine it.  Another theme that emerges from the work is the issue of race and identity in Modern America.  The issue of slavery and its abolition in the North coupled with its zealous defense in the South proves to be a defining element in the Civil War.  The issue of race and racial identity are critical components in the conception of America through the Civil War period and beyond, which are also central to the Narrative.  Along these lines, one can sense that the theme of growth in modernity is present in Douglass' work.  The reality in which Douglass is writing is one where America, as a young nation, will have to endure the pains of growth and engage in reflective analysis as to how to handle such growth.  I think that another theme is the empowerment which accompanies literacy.  Douglass is quite pointed about the idea that his evolution as a human being and emergence from the bondage of slavery is a direct result of learning how to read and write fluently.  Finally, the theme of social responsibility is of critical importance to Douglass' work.  This is an idea which stresses that individuals have a responsibility to both themselves and their immediate social order.  Douglass does not merely escape out of slavery and forget his previous predicament.  Rather, he fully immerses himself within and to the cause of abolition so that others may understand the joys and redemption of freedom as he did.

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