Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself Analysis
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave belongs to the “heroic fugitive” school of literature. Like other slave narratives, it was propagandistic, trying to recruit others in the war against slavery. Of the hundred or so slave narratives in print prior to the Civil War, only sixteen had been written entirely by the former slaves—the others being largely ghostwritten or “as told to”—and Douglass’ account was by far the best. The eloquence of his prose helped to refute the belief in the supposed inferiority of African Americans.
Douglass wrote accurately and with a reliable memory, so that the facts pertaining to the white people in the book could be verified, and instead of generalizing, he supported the narrative with concrete details. Douglass further held the reader’s belief by not inventing dialogue, which would have given the work a semifictitious character. He wrote in a clear, direct, unadorned prose, free from the verbosity that many readers objected to in the novels of such writers as James Fenimore Cooper. Despite his outrage at the cruel treatment of slaves as chattel rather than as human beings, he avoided the sermonizing and sentimentality that flaw parts of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and thereby perhaps evoked a more genuine sympathy for the victims of the “peculiar institution.”
What Douglass accomplished was to make the reader identify with...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
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