Discuss the main themes in Chapter 10 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass when Douglass wages battle with Mr. Covey.

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

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Chapter 10 is a difficult chapter.  It is difficult to fully absorb in terms of the grasping the brutality of slavery.  As an experience, Douglass shows it to be difficult.  Yet, with the introduction of Covey, Douglass reveals how it is an exercise of power.   In demystifying it and reducing it to this light, Douglass is able to present it as a dynamic that can and should be rectified.

Covey is a sadistic human being.  The manner in which he takes joy in trapping and beating the slaves that have the unfortunate experience of encountering him helps to solidify this impression.  Douglass details how his nickname of "the Negro breaker" suits him.  In incident after incident, Covey is shown to enjoy the power that accompanies being a slave master. Whipping and beating slaves for the smallest transgression, using slaves to substantiate his own paltry economic state, as well as forcing slaves to breed in order to produce twins to double his profit are but a few of the many examples of his cruelty, a theme that is vital to Douglass' work.

Douglass endures what he can and takes the abuse the Covey hurls and physically inflicts upon him.  Yet, there comes a point where Douglass can no longer stand for the abuse and he fights with Covey for an excrutiating two hours.  Filling out the idea that "a slave was made a man," Douglass removes the power that Covey has by beating him at his own game.  The physical condition that Covey used for so long to subjugate slaves and ensure his own power is one that Douglass is able to wrestle away from Covey and demonstrate his own equality to the slaveowner.  In this exchange, slavery is shown to be a construct of power.  Like all disproportionate uses of power, once an individual is able to crack through this code of entitlement, the aura is gone and a new threshold has been reached.  It is here where Covey no longer abuses Douglass and maintains his distance.  This exchange between both men helps to demonstrate another one of Douglass' main themes that slavery is a construction of power.  Douglass understands enough of American History to understand that it is part of the nation's historical DNA to recognize that disproportionate uses of power have to be remedied at some point.  With regards to slavery and his own autobiography, Douglass believes that point to be soon, something brought out through his life and work.

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