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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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Which quote from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave depicts a slave auction and its impact on the overall narrative?

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In the Appendix, Douglass describes how a slave auction separates and destroys families. He notes that he who “scatters whole families … leav[es] ... the hearth desolate.” Douglass’s presentation of this commentary expands on his first-person observations of the narrative as a whole. He offers it within a clarification of his attitudes toward religion.

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In the narrative of his life, Frederick Douglass includes an appendix that is intended to clarify his position on religion, especially Christianity. He points out that he is not opposed to Christianity per se, but to “slaveholding religion.” He notes that has good reason to be critical of the multiple hypocritical positions that supposedly religious people demonstrate through their words and actions. Repeating and emphasizing points made earlier in the narrative, he insists that the institution of slavery has harmful effects on all who participate in it. Douglass states as one who loves Christ’s “pure … and impartial Christianity,”

I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land …. I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show ... which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.

Douglass continues by calling out those who sell humans for specific purposes. He mentions individual family members, such as sisters, as well as the family in general.

He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity …. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,—sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,—leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate …

The criticism he levels against hypocrisy is here aimed at those who defend the family as sacred but simultaneously scatter families when they sell individual members.

Throughout the narrative, Douglass raises numerous objections to arguments that seek to justify slavery because the slaveholders take responsibility for the religious education of the enslaved people they control. In this passage, he points to the irony of this specious argument. He notes the dismal harmony between two kinds of bells: those of the auctioneer and the church.

We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the Poor Heathen! All For The Glory Of God And The Good Of Souls! The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master.

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