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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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Who is Frederick Douglass' intended audience in his autobiography, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

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Frederick Douglass's intended audience was white people, mainly in the north, as he wanted to convince them of the damaging effects of slavery and to convince them that slavery should be abolished. The two prefatory letters in the book, one written by Wendell Phillips and one written by William Lloyd Garrison, were intended to make sure the white readership of the book knew that Frederick Douglass was trustworthy. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were white abolitionists who had a lot of credibility among white audiences in the north, and their blessing to Douglass went a long way in making sure white northern readers took Douglass seriously.

Douglass's autobiography was intended to let his white audience know about the damage that slavery not only inflicted on slaves but the damage it also inflicted on white slave owners. For example, in telling the story of his slave owner, Sophia Auld, Douglass illustrated how slavery degraded a woman who was formerly kind to slaves (as she had never held slaves before). The white audience that read this account would, Douglass hoped, determine that slavery was contrary to their religious values and that slavery made the white people associated with it amoral. These arguments would, Douglass hoped, convince people to push for the abolition of slavery.

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In his narrative, Frederick Douglass seeks to educate an uninformed Northern audience.  Even in the book's preface, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips express to the audience that this book is unlike any other slave narrative that has been published to this point.  This book has been written by an actual slave who lived and escaped from the horrors described in the book.  Douglass knows that before his book, the only side being lifted up to the North was the Southern Slave Master's side.  This biased point of view did not paint an accurate picture of life in the south.

In his letter of introduction Phillips says "the treatment of slaves in Maryland, in which State it is conceded that they are better fed and less cruelly treated than in Georgia, Alabama, or Louisiana."  This shows us that Douglass seeks to break down previous misconceptions that slavery is lessbad in certain areas or okay in any place.  By the end of this book, his northern, Christian audience will have to accept that slavery goes against God and the Constitution, and so they will have to join the fight against it.

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