Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass
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Why do you think it was important for slave owners to keep slaves ignorant about their birthdays and parentage? Douglass opens his story in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by telling us that he is troubled by not knowing when he was born. Why is this fact so important to him?

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When Douglass says that slaves know as little about the circumstances or dates of their births as horses do, that one small comparison of enslaved human beings to a farm animal suggests a lot about why slave owners kept their slaves' birthdays and parentage from them.

The slave owners wanted to dehumanize the slaves as much as possible. As Douglass himself points out, slave owners saw slaves inquiring about their birthday as having "restless spirit"s—these are people who want to be individuals and refuse to be seen as expendable chattel.

The reasoning is much the same with keeping slave parentage secret. People feel a sense of identity with their families. Even today, people love knowing where their ancestors came from and their cultural heritage. Slaves were denied this basic comfort. Once again, slave owners did not want the slaves to develop personhood. They wanted to keep them in submission to their owners. Even something as basic as a parent-child relationship stood in the way of...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 717 words.)

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