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In A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, the writer looks at several different cultural aspects.
First and foremost, Douglass writes about what it is like to be a slave. As a man born into slavery, he is intimately familiar with the culture of slavery from a slave’s point of view. Part of Douglass’ purpose in the book is to disprove some myths that white people believe about slaves. In the passage below, Douglass is addressing the belief that many white people held that African slaves were generally happy people, as evidenced by the fact that they sang so often.
Slaves sing most when they are unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears... The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.
Douglass also writes about the effect of slavery on the slave owners themselves. One of his masters, Mrs. Auld, is initially kind to Douglass and tries to educate him. However, her husband’s opposition to this changes Mrs. Auld from a kind, gentle woman into a cruel, hateful slave owner, like so many others.
Nothing seemed to make her angrier than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension.
Douglass does not merely write about the well documented effects of slavery on the slave, but also about its dehumanizing effect on the slave owner.
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