Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself Themes

Themes

An Argument Against Slavery
One of the most explicit themes of the Narrative is the oppressive effect of institutionalized racism in the form of slavery in the southern United States. Throughout the narrative, Douglass provides striking examples of how slaves are brutalized, mentally and physically, by the slaveholding system. His narrative provides numerous examples that add up to a powerful indictment of the dehumanizing effects of slavery. These include the physical abuse of women, as in the treatment of Douglass' Aunt Hester, and the separation of families. Douglass points out that slavery is not only harmful to slaves but affects slaveholders too. His greatest example of the damaging effects of slavery on slaveholders is that of Sophia Auld. Auld had never been a slaveholder and is at first kind to Douglass. By owning him, she retracts her generosity of spirit. As Douglass notes, ''The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work.’’

False versus True Christianity
Another theme that runs throughout the Narrative is what it means to be a Christian in the South when slavery is at its core immoral. Douglass ingeniously sets up a dichotomy between two kinds of Christianity, as noted by scholars Keith Miller and Ruth Ellen Kocher in ‘‘Shattering Kidnapper's Heavenly Union: Interargumentation in Douglass's Oratory'': ‘‘He constantly pits True Christianity, which he explicitly embraces, against the False Christianity of racism and slavery.’’...

(The entire section is 638 words.)