In Free at Last, Bontemps advances no thesis and offers no conclusions about the meaning of Douglass’ life and work. This fact might explain why the biography was critically received as an unscholarly but highly readable account of the life of Frederick Douglass. In any case, the book will capture the imagination of young adult readers mostly because of the dramatic tension created around Douglass’ escape, his tenuous claim to freedom until it was legally bought, and the often-bloody, violent battles at the abolition meetings where Douglass spoke.
By presenting an account of the antislavery movement with this manner of story-telling, Bontemps has re-created events that should serve to educate the young adult reader about the mood of the United States toward African Americans in the years leading up to the Civil War. By blending this history with the life of Douglass, Bontemps focuses the reader’s attention on a figure so captivating that what might otherwise be a dull history lesson of names and dates comes alive as a highly readable and dramatic tale.
Douglass was a highly accomplished individual. His escape and the perseverance with which he fought for what he believed make him an exemplary role model for the young adult reader. As he is presented in Free at Last, Douglass is intended to be, and indeed appears as, an inspirational figure whose contributions to the eradication of slavery should not be overlooked.