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The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass Essay

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The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass


Metal clanks against metal as the chains rub on old scars issuing in another day of toil in the heat with head-down and blood streaming as each new lash is inflicted. This is usually the picture envisioned when one thinks of slavery. While often this is an accurate depiction, there are also many other forms of slavery. The Webster’s Dictionary describes slavery as, “submission to a dominating influence.” Everyone has influences that shape who they are and what they do, but a problem arises when a person’s entire life is spent abiding under a certain, destructive influence. Often this is done willingly and a sort of addiction occurs in maintaining the hold the authority has in one’s life. It gives the person identity; all they need to do is live under the power they have created for themselves and make up the rules as they go along. Yet in doing this, they rob themselves of true freedom in knowing right from wrong and choosing the right. In fact, in this regard Fredrick Douglass is one of the freest men in his narrative. In the life story of Fredrick Douglass we not only see an African American man struggling against the oppression of slavery, but also many white masters struggling against their enslavement to reputation, power and religion.

First we see what it is to be a slave to reputation. Throughout the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass it is obvious that what others think matters a great deal to the slave holders. Although this may not make sense since they still do atrocious things to their slaves, there is a certain persona they want to convey to others. Mr. Covey was a harsh, cruel man, and everyone knew and respected him for being such. C...


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...nd his white masters as free, but that can only be true if using one definition of freedom. Although seemingly free these white men also struggle under oppression. It is not forced upon, conversely they willingly and purposefully lock on the chains of slavery which dominate their lives. They conform their lives to something that gives them a sense of meaning and identity, using their freedom to choose slavery. Meanwhile, Douglass is free to live an entirely different lifestyle. Perhaps one of the most powerful quotes in his narrative is when Douglass states that “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence (28).” He is not willfully bound under the dominion of anything; he is free to be himself and thus know real right from wrong. In this he shows his true freedom.


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