Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Free at Last: The Life of Frederick Douglass, Arna Bontemps provides both a narrative of the life of Douglass, a former slave, and a richly detailed account of the abolitionist, or antislavery, movement. The work is divided into ten chapters that recount the experiences of Douglass and his relationship to many of the leading abolitionists during the years between 1840 and 1865.

The biography takes as its starting point Douglass’ escape from slavery at the age of twenty. Details from his childhood, when he was a slave in Baltimore County, are provided in flashbacks that are largely drawn from Douglass’ own autobiographies. In fact, chapter 2, “Song of the Son,” is mostly told in Douglass’ own words. In this way, Bontemps manages to present a vivid account of the condition of slavery. Douglass was a prolific writer, and passages from many of the letters that he wrote to newspapers are included in the story, further revealing Douglass’ ideas in his own words.

While Douglass’ personal life and his relationships with his wife and children are discussed in the biography, it is clear that Douglass was a man devoted to his work. Therefore, Free at Last is a biography not so much about the life of an individual as about the life of a leading abolitionist and American hero named Frederick Douglass.

Free at Last chronicles Douglass’ interactions with the abolitionists who gave him his start as a...

(The entire section is 462 words.)