Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass
Start Free Trial

Discuss the following themes in Frederick Douglass's Narrative: home, power, violence, mind, and manhood.

To examine the theme of violence in Douglass's Narrative, consider the various acts of violence that Douglass witnessed against slaves. Then, explain why he would include these details in his text. Consider why would it have been important for readers in the mid-1800s to be more aware of the violence against slaves.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As you begin answering these questions, think about the true message Douglass wants to convey regarding each of these themes. For example, as the author of this text, what does Douglass want readers to know about power as it relates to conflicts he faced? I'm going to help get you started by pointing you to some key segments of the work that you might want to consider as you begin working through this assignment.

Home: Douglass moved around a few times (not by choice, of course) before he made his eventual escape. What did he lose by not having an established sense of home? You might ask yourself about the relationships with family which he was denied through ongoing efforts to relocate him.

Power: Who holds the power in this text? How do you know? What responsibilities do those with power have? How can power be viewed negatively as a result of Douglass's conflicts?

Violence: From the earliest pages, Douglass explains how violence shaped his perceptions. Recall the time he saw his aunt beaten when he was still a young child. In chapters 3–5, Douglass gives various examples of the violence inflicted upon slaves. Why would these details be important as Douglass hoped to use his platform to bolster support for the abolitionist movement?

Mind: Of particular note here is Douglass's literacy. When Mr. Auld discovers that his wife is teaching Douglass to read, he is infuriated. He forbids further instruction, pointing out that literacy would make Douglass "discontented and unhappy." Douglass recognizes the desperation in Mr. Auld's position means that he could gain a great deal by learning to read, so he pursues literacy with a passion. When he learned to read, he was able to think in deeper ways and began to really comprehend the idea of abolitionism. How do you see Douglass's mental strength shaping his eventual outcome?

Manhood: To answer this, you'll first need to define what it means to be a man. The overseers certainly display the brute strength often associated with masculinity, but surely there is more to manhood than power and force. How do you see Douglass contributing to the qualifiers that we should consider as we assess the "manhood" of a person? You might, for example, examine courage, leadership, or independence.

I hope these notes help as you construct your responses. Good luck!

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial