Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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In the 1840s, when Douglass wrote his antislavery narrative, the abolitionist movement was gaining momentum in both the United States and Great Britain. However, unlike today, communication methods were limited. Research the abolitionist movement of this time and discuss the communication methods that abolitionists used to spread the antislavery message.

At the same time that abolitionists were calling for the end of slavery, women in the United States were beginning to organize around equal rights. This First Wave of feminism was closely linked to the abolitionist movement. Research the relationship that the abolitionist movement had with First Wave feminism. How were their goals similar? Where did they part? How was Douglass involved in the First Wave feminist movement?

Since Douglass wrote his Narrative, many other African Americans have written autobiographies that use their own experiences to critique American society's marginalization of them. What other groups in the United States have used the genre of autobiography in this manner? When were these books written, and what was their mission?

Published in the 1960s, The Autobiography of Malcolm X had the same crossover appeal that Douglass' Narrative did in terms of attracting both African-American and white audiences. Read excerpts from the book and draw comparisons between the two books. For example, what themes do the two books address? How do they differ? How are they the same?

Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, is the mostly highly acclaimed slave narrative written by a woman. Read it, and then compare and contrast it with the Narrative. In particular, analyze how gender accounts for specific experiences undergone as a slave. Then discuss differences in narrative structure, themes, and literary devices in the texts.

Explore more thoroughly the differences that Douglass brings to light between being a plantation slave and a city slave by researching historical documents and books that describe what life was like in these two different environments.

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