Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The play Escape to Freedom is a fictionalized biography of the early days of abolitionist, orator, and publisher Frederick Douglass told through a prologue and five scenes. Noted African American actor and playwright Ossie Davis employs direct narration, dramatizes situations, and intersperses the play with African American folk music. Utilizing a bare stage with set pieces, the play moves quickly from scene to scene and from place to place as the young Fred Bailey, who is later to become Frederick Douglass, plans and executes his escape from the horrors of slavery.

The story of Escape to Freedom is developed through flashbacks as the narrator, the adult Frederick Douglass, looks back on his childhood as a slave in various locations in Maryland. Other actors in the cast play a variety of characters, from slave owners to friends and confidants. They also function as a musical ensemble and as soloists, singing the folksongs that complement the action. Set changes are accomplished by the actors as they position the chairs, tables, and other items used to suggest the movement from one locale to another.

While the play deals directly with the harshness of American slavery, it is not a diatribe. Davis successfully presents the conflicting views of white people regarding the humanity of those who were enslaved and the morality of the institution itself. Just as young Fred is victimized and abused by those white people who support and benefit from the system, so too is he aided by those who question and challenge it.

The story begins as Jethro, an older slave, tells Fred of his visit to Baltimore in which he saw free black people. Fred is...

(The entire section is 690 words.)