Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Summary
by Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Summary

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is an autobiography by Frederick Douglass in which Douglass recounts his experiences as a slave and eventual escape to freedom.

  • Douglass describes how he was separated from his mother and raised in Talbot County, Maryland, where he witnesses his slave owner beating his aunt.

  • Douglass witnesses and is himself subjected to many horrors. His luck changes when he's sent to work on a plantation in Baltimore, from which he's able to escape.

  • Douglass recounts how he was able to flee Baltimore and reach a free state. He then became a well-known writer and abolitionist.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, one of the finest nineteenth century slave narratives, is the autobiography of the most well-known African American of his time. The narrative chronicles Douglass’ early life, ending soon after his escape from slavery when he was approximately twenty. It focuses on formative experiences that stand out in his life for their demonstration of the cruelty of slavery and of his ability to endure and transcend such conditions with his humanity intact.

Douglass’ work follows the formula of many slave narratives of his day. He structures his story in a linear fashion, beginning with what little information he knew about his origins and progressing episodically through to his escape North. His recurring theme is the brutal nature of slavery, with an emphasis on the persevering humanity of the slaves despite unspeakable trials and the inhumanity of slave owners. Other themes common to Douglass’ and other slave narratives are the hypocrisy of white Christianity, the linkage of literacy to the desire for and attainment of freedom, and the assurance that with liberty the former slave achieved not only a new sense of self-worth but also an economic self-sufficiency. Douglass’ work is characteristic of the nineteenth century in that it is melodramatic and at times didactic.

Despite its conventional traits, however, Douglass’ work transcends formulaic writing. The author’s astute analyses of the psychology of slavery, his eloquent assertions of self, and his striking command of rhetoric lift this work above others in its genre. Particularly memorable scenes include young Frederick’s teaching himself to read, the fight with the slave breaker Covey, the author’s apostrophe to freedom as he watches sailboats on Chesapeake Bay, and his interpretation of slave songs as songs of sorrow.

When Douglass...

(The entire section is 503 words.)