Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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When Douglass’ book appeared in 1845, it became the most prominent among the almost one hundred book-length slave narratives and catapulted the author to the leading place among African-American abolitionists. It sold widely and became an explosive book in its treatment of human bondage, an issue that threatened to tear the nation apart. The autobiography helped prepare the way for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, whose author knew and admired Douglass, used him as a source for her novel, and modeled the heroic intellectual slave George Harris upon him. After gaining his freedom, Douglass not only lectured as an abolitionist but also became the editor of an antislavery weekly newspaper. In addition, he became an early advocate of women’s rights, including the right to vote. During the Civil War, Douglass recruited troops and after the war became marshal of the District of Columbia, minister resident and consul general to Haiti, and chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo. The most distinguished nineteenth century African American, Douglass has been called the father of the Civil Rights movement. Along with Richard Wright’s Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth (1945), his autobiography is one of the most moving in American literature.

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Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)


Critical Overview