How did Frederick Douglass describe slave life on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation in his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Conditions are harsh and cruel on Colonel Lloy's plantation, but the slaves are used to it.

Douglass describes the harsh conditions on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation in great detail.  For example, he describes the slaves’ meager allotment of food and clothing.

The men and women slaves received, as their monthly allowance of food, eight pounds of pork, … and one bushel of corn meal. Their yearly clothing consisted of two coarse linen shirts, one pair of linen trousers … one jacket, one pair of trousers for winter… one pair of stockings, and one pair of shoes … (Ch. 2)

They also were not allowed beds, sleeping on the floor with a coarse blanket.  Douglass did not consider this a great hardship because the slaves had such harsh lives in general, and they did not know any differently.  It demonstrates what a difficult position they were in.  They were treated unfairly and suffered deprivation at every turn, but it was the only life they knew.

As soon as the horn was sounded, the slaves were expected to get up and get into the fields. Anyone who was late was punished very harshly. 

Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the field at the sound of the horn. (Ch. 2)

Mr. Severe was extremely harsh and profane, and the slaves hated him, but fortunately he was replaced when he died by Mr. Hopkins, who was much were humane.  Even though he still whipped the slaves, because that was expected, he did not do it overmuch, and did not seem to take pleasure in it, so he was considered by the slaves “a good overseer.”

All of the slaves on the plantation wanted to work in the main farm, described as the Great House Farm.  A slave’s prestige was determined by the position of his master, so the closer he was to him and the richer his master, the more prestigious the slave.

Douglass describes the hardships of slavery in a very matter of fact way.  He sometimes describes things that affected him emotionally, such as his reaction to the singing of slaves, and how it brought him to tears. 

Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. (Ch. 2)

Even when slaves seem happy, and whites or northerners mistake them for being happy, Douglass feels that the signing of slaves is one of the harshest testaments against slavery.  Although he is often as matter of fact as possible in his narrative, his purpose the entire time is to make sure that the reader knows the horrors of slavery.

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