Frederick Douglass wrote his
narrative during a time when slavery was still legal in almost all parts of the
United States. The purpose for publishing his life story was to educate others
and shed some light on what slavery was truly like from the inside and his
perspective as a slave who endured the hardships. Through this publication,
Douglass hoped to gain support for the abolition of the horrific practice known
as slavery. His life, written on paper in a simplistic language was intended to
speak to individuals in all parts of the United States and touch them in a way
that only a factual, first- hand account story on surviving slavery could.
When his time with Mr. Covey had
come to an end, Douglass’s desire and curiosity of freedom and running away
became more than just a fantasy. As he moved between masters and homes he was
always planning a perfect escape up North. After one failed attempt he succeeded
in reaching New York. He was first overwhelmed by the feeling of liberty but
quickly realized the greater reality of his friends still living in slavery. He would not be completely satisfied with his
freedom until all slavery was abolished. He became an abolitionist activist in
order to make a change for all those less fortunate than himself, for his
friends back home who were still suffering the chains of slavery.
As Douglass grew to become a young man
he felt it necessary to fight for freedom quite literally. Upon being sent to Mr. Covey who had a
reputation of being the “slave breaker,” Douglass reverted back to being an obedient
slave for some time. It would have seemed that Covey had successfully broken
his spirits but not for long. Covey was a gruesome and relentless man who
punished Douglass unjustly. After his attempt to escape Covey he was forced to
return as he was rightfully his property. At this point Douglass felt he would
much rather die than continue to endure the abuse as a slave. This was a
crucial turning point because it gave him the spirit to continue to fight for
his liberty in confrontation with Covey. When he was due for his punishment of
not following Covey’s orders and he tried to whip him, Douglass would not go
down without a fight. After nearly two hours in a quarrel, Covey left him to be
and did not lay a finger on him again (56).
His story continued when, at the age
of about seven Douglass left Colonel Lloyd’s plantation to work for new masters
in Baltimore. There, he was greeted by a much kinder set of owners. The master’s
wife taught him his letters and how to spell short and simple words. Upon doing
so, his master strongly disapproved of educating slaves stating that if she
continued to teach him to read “it would forever unfit him to be a slave. He
would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master” (32).
Overhearing his masters words, Douglass indirectly learned a valuable lesson.
He learned that slavery did not exist because the white men were better, but
more so that they keep their slaves uneducated. He saw the power of education
and made it a point to gain knowledge and further his reading skills any way he
could. He believed that if he could educate himself, there would no longer be a
way to keep slaves from pursuing a life of freedom.
Douglass was born in Tuckahoe,
Maryland and like many slaves he had no knowledge of his date of birth or age (13).
His recounts of his childhood on the plantation increase in severity. As a
young child he did not get as serious punishments from his master such as
whippings unlike some of the other slaves. He did however witness his mother’s
death and was unable to attend her funeral (14). He witnessed his aunt get
beaten (16), and watched one of his overseers kill a man who a shot to the face
(26). These events, while not physical punishment, were moments of emotional
punishment that led Douglass to further understand the punishment of slavery as
The “Narrative of the Life of Frederick
Douglass” is written from his perspective illustrating his life and journey
from a man living in slavery to his days as a free man.