Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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Student Question

How do you respond to Douglass's self-portrayal in his narrative today?

Quick answer:

I was struck by the way Douglass is able to look back on his life with a positive attitude. The facts of his life were so terrible, yet he doesn’t rail on with hatred and revenge. He looks at his life objectively and sees that it has been good in many ways. It is also amazing that such suffering didn’t make him bitter, but instead led him to live a life that was so beneficial to others.

Expert Answers

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I assume that you’re talking about Frederick Douglass.

To answer this question you have to examine your thoughts and feelings as you read the account of his life.

What I was most struck by was how he came out of such a difficult situation with a positive attitude. He is able to look back on his life, a life that many would find psychologically devastating, calmly and critically. He does not rail on with hatred and a desire for revenge. In fact, he actually has kind words for former “owners” who treated him well at certain times in his life. He also does not give the details of his escape, something readers would have been intensely interested in, because it would have endangered others who helped him.

My overall response is one of awe.  It is amazing that a person can come through such an experience and live a life that is so beneficial to others. Most people do not approach his level of altruism, even those who have had no such obstacles to overcome. It is a testament to the strength of people who live by faith.

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