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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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What arguments against slavery did Frederick Douglass make in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

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A closer reading of Douglass's narrative brings out more intricate details about slavery.

As a child, he suffered from abuse, starvation, and cold. He recounts how slaves would be forced to sleep together in the same room. This clearly points to the miserable conditions that slaves were kept under—a fact that many slaveowners at the time denied. He further states that this experience was quite typical and not unusual.

He also points to the extremely dehumanizing experience of slavery. First, he states that he does not know exactly when he was born. He recalls being separated from his mother at an early age and only ever seeing her four or five times throughout his life. Furthermore, he has no knowledge of who his father was, other than rumors that it was a former master. This gives historians an idea of the real brutality of slavery and how it stripped African Americans of their identity and family.

Douglass makes it clear that slavery was also a mechanism to take away a man's identity. After his fight with Covey, where he beats down a slave-breaker in defiance of the violence being carried out against him, he writes the famous quote, "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man." This shows that by resisting slavery, Douglass saw himself as regaining his masculinity.

Finally, Douglass provides us with a complex picture of masters. He argues that while slavery in itself was brutal, and if forced people to become monsters, not all masters were inherently cruel and some could afford their slaves more freedom than others. This is seen when Douglass recalls being allowed to work in Baltimore for wages—an act which eventually prompted him to hatch a successful escape plan.

Overall, as said, Douglass's arguments provide us with an accurate picture of slavery as a terrible, dehumanizing institution.

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First and foremost, Douglass argues that slavery hurts the slave. This may seem obvious now, but at the time, many whites believed slaves were happy and well taken care of, with cradle-to-grave security. Douglass says they are, in fact, hungry, abused, degraded, and afraid to speak out. He strongly states that the singing often used as a sign of their contentment really signals their misery and lamentation. He says too that testimonials from slaves that they are happy are simply the words of people fearful of retribution if they tell the truth.

Second, Douglass argues that slavery has a dehumanizing effect on slaveowners. It turns them from kind and compassionate people into sadists with hearts of stone. He mentions, for example, his owner, Mrs. Auld, in Baltimore. She doesn't understand slavery at first and treats the young Douglass with kindness, even starting to teach him to read, until she is schooled into cruelty and contempt. This, he argues, withers her own soul. He says too there is no end to the sadism of the plantation owners. The more they beat the slaves, the more they are whetted to want to beat them more. Eventually, they become more like monsters than human beings.

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Douglass makes many arguments against slavery in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. He first believes that education is the key to freedom. Douglass explores how slave owners strategically prevented enslaved people from learning to read and write out of fear that they may rebel. Douglass self-educates and considers this to be the main tool by which slaves can free themselves. Through literacy Douglass argues that slaves are able to see themselves as human. He believes that literacy is a consciousness-raising tool that provided slaves with the power of storytelling and self-recognition.

Furthermore, Douglass addresses how the inhumanity of slavery harms both slaves and owners. He believes that this moral corruption weighs on the souls of slave owners, causing them to engage in further immoral acts. Finally, Douglass claims that slavery is unchristian, as it is fueled by selfish greed.

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In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass lodges arguments against the institution of slavery.  One of Douglass's major arguments involves the use of religion as the underpinning of slavery.  Douglass has encountered masters who pray to God on Sunday and come home to beat their slaves the very same evening.  Douglass argues that these masters have misinterpreted the true meaning of the Bible when they cite passages that seem to argue for the upholding of slavery.  Yet, Douglass does not give up his own faith:  he says that it is not the word of God that is wrong, only the interpretation of it.  Douglass says that those who read the true meaning of God's word will receive His protection.  Douglass argues that masters need some justification for their cruel treatment of slaves, so they use the Bible to do it, which is wrong.

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