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In chapter seven Douglass makes a very interesting observation about slavery. Everyone knows about the more obvious negative aspects of slavery: the imprisonment, the loss of choice regarding ones’ future, separation from family, physical torture, hunger, humiliation, etc. But Douglass takes a different course for a moment in this chapter to show how slavery hurts more than just the slave.
Douglass has gone to live with a new family, the Aulds. At first, Mrs. Auld is very kind, and even begins teaching him to read (tantamount to an unthinkable crime among most slave owners). But after her husband chastises her about her sympathetic treatment of Douglass she changes dramatically. This leads Douglass to write:
“Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. . . Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.”
The idea that slavery harms not only the slave but also the potentially good people who are connected to it isn’t one that we often see written about, especially in Douglass’ time. For a black man to pass judgment on a white woman was a risky, and usually socially unacceptable, practice.
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