Douglass convincingly portrays slavery a a brutal and corruptive system of relations ultimately based on power. Slaves are dehumanized by the institution, which is the negation of manhood and humanity. In prefacing his showdown with Covey, the sadistic overseer, he tells the reader: "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how the slave was made a man." Slavery had dehumanized Douglass, as he makes clear shortly before he decides to resist Covey with force:
My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
Slavery was also proven to corrupt whites who participated in it, as is made clear in the person of Sophia Auld, who had never been a slaveholder before her husband acquired Douglass. At first she is kind to him, but she eventually becomes hardened and insensitive. In fact, the corrosive effects of the despotic power of slavery on the human spirit are particularly evident in Mrs. Auld, as Douglass notes, "the fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work."