Frederick Douglass Questions and Answers

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What can we learn about slavery from the life of Frederick Douglass?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the points that Douglass makes forcefully about slavery is that it is an institution that harms all of the participants, not just the slave. He argues that the slaves take the brunt of the punishment but that, nevertheless, the white slaveowners are also dehumanized.

A prime example of this dehumanization is Mrs. Auld. When Douglass is sent to serve her in Baltimore, she is at first kind to him because she has had little prior contact with slavery. She treats him as a human being, allows him to look her in the face, and even goes so far as to start to teach him to read. He learns the alphabet and short words before her husband intervenes.

When Mrs. Auld, however, becomes more conversant with the system of slavery, her kind heart is hardened, and she begins to treat slaves harshly and as if they are not truly human.

Douglass also notes the way the violent beatings perpetrated by some of the slaveowners merely whet their appetite for more violence—a violence they then can indulge....

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