Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass
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Who was Douglass's audience and why?

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Frederick Douglass found himself in a fairly unique position before writing this book. He had grown up in slavery and had managed to teach himself to read and write, which was nearly unheard of. White slave owners realized the power that literacy had in developing increasingly complex thoughts, and they wanted to keep the slaves in bondage—both literally and intellectually. Through his owner Mr. Auld, Frederick Douglass realizes the path to freedom afforded by becoming literate, and once he learned to read, he became a vocal force for the abolitionist movement.

Therefore, Douglass sought to use the voice of his unique perspective of the slavery experience to influence public opinion, particularly among white Christians in the North. In his book, Douglass provides the graphic and horrendous details of bloody beatings he witnessed as a slave. He describes the murder of several slaves and notes that white men killing black men was an accepted practice with no penalty expected.

Douglass makes it clear that the principles of Christ do not align with the horror of slavery. In the appendix, he notes,

I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

Loving Christ and upholding the principles of slavery are mutually exclusive. Douglass wanted his Christian audience to examine how their faith should not support or condone the institute of slavery.

Douglass wanted to ignite change in America. He wrote the book with the intention of unmasking slavery and revealing the horrific reality he had endured personally, making it impossible for anyone who read the book to ignore the truth of a slave's experience.

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