In the most seminal slave narrative ever written, Frederick Douglass writes, "From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom." Reading this narrative is to witness the birth of new literary presence, one that counts W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Angela Davis, and Toni Morrison among its progeny.
Repeatedly in these pages, Douglass reveals his contempt for so-called “Christian” slaveholders. He wrote, “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.” He went so far as to say that he could see “no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”
As with most of the Dover Thrift Editions, this copy does not include an index or footnotes, but that doesn’t diminish the powerful impact of this little book.
After reading this, I was surprised really that more slaves did not make the attempt to escape. He says that he never had any idea of escape until after he learned to read and realized what else was out there in the world. That may have been one reason. Douglass himself says that he almost changed his mind when he realized that his escape would mean the loss of contact with all his friends. I'm sure that such ties to friends and family was another reason that most slaves stayed put.
After reading this, I was motivated to read more about Douglass and what happened to him after he wrote this book. He was a very eloquent, even passionate man fighting for the cause of freedom and equal rights for both women and for slaves. This is a great story for young people to read, as it would help them understand how brutal slavery really was. Also important today, when there are still horrible acts of violence and injustice all around the world.
The routine cruelty of slaveholders and their overseers is probably what anyone would now expect to hear. But it is the restrained and level-headed description of this cruelty that really gives the narrative its power. A couple of vivid points the author impressed on me: that slaveholders with pronounced Christian beliefs were invariably the most inhumane; and the sense of isolation and mistrust he found on his escape to 'freedom' in New York. This is surely some kind of definitive contribution to literature of the human condition.
One of the greatest books ever written. If you have yet to read it, you are depriving yourself of one of life's finest experiences.
Slavery was not an abstract institution. Conscious human beings were deprived of the most basic human needs, dignity, and ownership of their own selves. To read about the experience by one who grew up in its shackles far exceeds any and all intellectual or philosophical musings on its evil.
Frederick Douglas is an example of someone who was able to use adversity as motivation for self-improvement at whatever cost. Efforts to dissuade him from learning to read and write made him that much more committed to not just learning, but to doing so excellently. Efforts to keep him from escaping only made it inevitable that he would do so. Frederick Douglas can serve as an inspiration to so many of us and an example of perseverance and discipline. He was smart enough to recognize that when something wrong is going on, it's not enough to endure, but one must make efforts to end the problem.
Highly highly recommended, and I wish it were required reading for everyone in school everywhere.
The edition I bought was published by the Yale University Press in 2001. In addition to the Narrative this edition includes a chronology of Douglas’ life and an extensive Introduction discussing, among other issues, the use of slave narratives by the abolitionists to drum up support for their cause and the difficulties in demonstrating the accuracy of those accounts. Douglas’ Narrative was unique at the time because he dared to name names, give dates, and describe in detail incidences that could be checked, thus putting himself in physical danger of retaliation. My edition also included responses of readers of the day to the Narrative and extensive historical annotations demonstrating the accuracy of his story. Highly recommended as an important document in the history of the USA. 5 stars
I was truly fascinated by the way that he tricked the young boys in his baltimore neighborhood into teaching him how to read, the way he gave his master the beat down of his life, the type of planning that he did to get things done, the strength and courage that it took to stand up to rouge cowards, and his constant analysis of his condition as well as his friends, family and colleagues.
Although the total narrative was very focused on the events of his life you cannot help but wonder about other things that made the civilization, look astoundingly backwards.
Things such as the proletariate violence, the child abuse, the rape of woman, the wonton murder and the labor practices. By the way the narrative explains the work practices, the freedman, the working class were as much in bondage as the slave. There had to be high unemployment and when the slaves were eventually emancipated everyone who was not wealthy and didn't own anything was without a doubt emancipated also, else headed for the same plight as the people in bondage...
I enjoyed this narrative....