What was the author's purpose in writing this book?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Simply stated, Douglass was attempting to expose the horrors of slavery to a large reading public. His book was a highly political document, intended to foster opposition to slavery among educated Northerners. The abolitionist movement was growing, but as persuasive as the writings and speeches of such firebrands as William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips could be for some Northerners, they were no substitute for first-hand accounts, written by former slaves themselves. Douglass's Narrative fits into a genre of slave narratives that included accounts by Olaudah Equiano, Venture Smith, Harriet Jacobs, and many others. Douglass was as successful as any in exposing the psychological, as well as the physical effects of slavery on the enslaved. 

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Frederick Douglass's purpose in writing his autobiography was not only to show the way in which slavery degraded slaves but also to show the way the institution of slavery degraded slave masters. He shows this in part through the character of Sophia Auld, who is a kindly woman when Frederick Douglass first arrives at her house as a boy. She even attempts to teach him to read, but her husband criticizes her for doing so, saying that teaching slaves to read will make them unfit for slavery. She stops teaching young Frederick Douglass to read and becomes a hateful woman. Douglass emphasizes that Mrs. Auld, who has never held slaves before, has been turned evil by her association with slave ownership. His purpose in drawing this and other portraits of cruel slaveowners in the book is to show northerners how evil slavery is and how it degrades white people as well as slaves.

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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As stated in the previous answer, Douglass's purpose in writing this book was to reveal the evils of slavery to the wider public. To this end, Douglass pulls absolutely no punches in his depiction of the horrors of slavery. Not only does he speak about what he himself went through, he provides horrifyingly graphic details of the sheer sadistic cruelty of some overseers towards other slaves, who would flog them almost to death, and so on (the maltreatment of Aunt Hester is one particularly lurid example). Douglass himself was finally able to escape this miserable life, but his account remembers those who did not.

Throughout the book, Douglass never loses his angry, bitter, accusative tone. Indeed, the work comes across as sensationalist, but this was not fiction: it was grounded in actual experience. The book was intended  - and proved - to be a shocking eye-opener for many readers who previously may have been only hazily aware of the extent of the suffering of many slaves.  It became a clarion call for the Abolitionist movement, and Douglass himself a highly respected activist and speaker for the cause.

The book, then, undeniably serves a distinct political and polemical purpose, but it can also be taken as a personal attempt by Douglas to try and work through his grim experiences as a former slave.


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