Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave

by Frederick Douglass

Other authorsDavid W. Blight (Editor)
Paper Book, 1993

Status

Available

Publication

Boston : Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, c1993.

Description

Former slave, impassioned abolitionist, brilliant writer, newspaper editor and eloquent orator whose speeches fired the abolitionist cause, Frederick Douglass (1818?1895) led an astounding life. Physical abuse, deprivation and tragedy plagued his early years, yet through sheer force of character he was able to overcome these obstacles to become a leading spokesman for his people. In this, the first and most frequently read of his three autobiographies, Douglass provides graphic descriptions of his childhood and horrifying experiences as a slave as well as a harrowing record of his dramatic escape to the North and eventual freedom.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cmbohn
This is the short biography of Frederick Douglass. He writes about his life as a slave, how his mother died, how he learned to read, how he was beaten and starved, and how he decided to escape. He enlarged on this story later, but in this version of the story, he doesn't give any details of his flight to freedom. But you certainly get a vivid and horrible picture of slavery. I thought his words about the religious hypocrisy of his former masters was especially illuminating.

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.
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LibraryThing member atyson
This book has a reputation as one of the most reliable and uncompromised first-person accounts by an American slave - which is why I picked it up. The book was written as a response to scepticism about the author's slave origins due to his literacy.


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.… (more)
LibraryThing member deanc
In 1845, only a few years after escaping the clutches of slavery, 27-year-old Frederick Douglass published this poignant account of his life through the auspices of the Anti-Slavery Office of Boston. The book was influential in advancing the cause of abolition in ante-bellum America. He describes his early years as a slave, which includes his account of learning to read by stealth with the help of white school-age boys he met in his Baltimore neighborhood. The more he read the more he learned of the world of freedom and, consequently, the more he yearned to be free.

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.
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LibraryThing member AshRyan
"From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom...Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read."

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member bfertig
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, was AMAZING. I really feel like I missed out in high school because this wasn't required reading along with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Frederick Douglas was incredible articulate and explained, very reasonably, what it was like to grow up a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, to live in Baltimore, and what the social conditions were. His denunciation of empty and hypocritical religiosity in the appendix was spot on and can ring true even today.

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.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is a must-read. Written shortly after Douglass escaped from slavery, it chronicles his experiences as a slave. Written from both the head and the heart, Douglass' narrative effectively communicates the despair and rage experienced by one whose life is not his own and the longing for simple self-determination. He also provides a deep insight into the dynamics of slavery as it played out in his various masters, the impact on their humanity, the deceit of self and others, and the deep hypocrisy necessitated by the institution of human bondage.

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.
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LibraryThing member alexgalindo
Frederick Douglass has to be one of the most powerful American writers to date. The ferocity, and fear that engulfed his life are truly unbearable, and lets the reader feel that. Douglass is eloquent, and persuasive. But above all he is radical and inspiring.
LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
Incredible, amazing, moving autobiography. He writes with such energy and well-earned emotion. But this is not only an emotional story, it is one full of ideas that are still relevant today. Douglass even sometimes looks past race, which is hard to do today, much less in his position, with all his personal grievances, and focuses instead on the much larger ill of slavery. I found it touching how fairly he described his 'good masters' as well as 'bad masters' (good being a relative term here), not villifying them, though it would be easy to do so, but showing clearly how the institution of slavery itself is to blame for perverting or amplifying their bad natures. He is not only a great and moral man but a great writer, impressive as he wrote this only 7 years after escaping from slavery, and the only fault I find with this book is that, coming in at 86 pages of actual narrative, it's too short! I'm going to look for his two follow up autobiographies.… (more)
LibraryThing member jasongibbs
This is an interesting autobiography by a great American. Douglass is an example of courage and determination who deserves more attention by modern America.
LibraryThing member read.to.live
For my reading-while-driving I'm dependent on the library audiobook selection, which has very little overlap with anything I'd ever chose on my own. But amidst the dreck there are serendipities, books I never would have tried if not for the lack of any other option -- worlds opened to me that I never would have known otherwise. I certainly never would have considered reading the Narrative of Frederick Douglass -- not from any prejudice or lack of curiousity, but just from the general unexamined assumption that it would not be very interesting. Where do I get these ideas? Anyhow, this is a stunning book, clearly written, with riveting descriptions of life in slavery. It's one of those books -- I also said this about The Bookseller of Kabul -- that opens your eyes and heart to a greater understanding of those facts you already knew. The descriptions of the rags young Frederick had instead of clothes, the constant cursing heaped upon him, his dawning awareness of his own humanity and dignity, his willingness to fight for himself -- this is an eye-opening book that should be read by everyone studying American history.… (more)
LibraryThing member MusicMom41
Several members of LT have praised this book and since it seemed it would interesting background for my Civil War category and fit into my Biography category I decided it would be a good addition to my list this year. I will have to join the chorus of those praising this memoir of the years of slavery endured by Fredrick Douglas. His writing style is clear and engaging; he describes the horrors of slavery in a matter of fact manner that somehow makes more of an impact than an impassioned harangue would have; and he is fair in recounting the times that he felt that his masters treated him with fairness or kindness. He emphasizes how dehumanizing slavery is and how most masters used that technique to keep slaves docile. He also illustrates how the culture of slave holding was deleterious to masters as well as to the victims. Intellectually, we all know that the institution of slavery was an abomination. Reading Douglas’ Narrative we learn to understand emotionally just how devastating that system was to both slaves and masters.

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
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LibraryThing member CarlaR
I did enjoy this book. I love to have a first hand account of history and this book provided a first hand glimpse into the world of slavery. I also like the fact that it did not seem as if he had a score to settle and it was not overly emotional. It is an honor to have this book on my bookshelf.
LibraryThing member meggyweg
I had to read this for a college history class, but I would have read it for pleasure too. I can certainly why it is a classic. Douglass's story, like all slave narratives, is compelling, and you have to admire him for what he'd been through and what he accomplished in spite of his origins. On top of all that, he was a genuinely gifted writer. The book is clear, concise and thought-provoking. I would recommend this for high school and up. It's short enough to appeal to those with limited attention spans.… (more)
LibraryThing member touchthesky
Definitely the most interesting and intriguing autobiography. I had to read this for one of my college history classes and was surprised that it wasn't boring at all. Douglass' writing is beautiful.
LibraryThing member janemarieprice
Douglass’s memoir really amazed me. I was expecting something more alone the lines of Uncle Tom’s Cabin where the reader is brow-beaten with the message – I think this style was needed in the time it was written but makes for a difficult read at times today. The memoir, however, is a very practical piece. He tells his story frankly, without delving into morality, because the simple facts of his life are enough for one to form an opinion. A really beautifully told story – I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.… (more)
LibraryThing member doowatt34
I used to hear negative things about frederick bailey, johnson douglas but after reading his first narrative autobiography I thought of him as a brave, intellegent, thought ful and wise young man.

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....
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LibraryThing member mcivalleri
Some of the details of how slaves were treated, may be shocking to many readers. If readers are shocked by this story, then the book has done it’s job; showing people just how cruel and ugly it is when one group of people abuses and enslaves another. Perhaps it will teach readers to give people who are different than themselves respect and understanding, and help them make decisions in their own futures that encourage unity in the human race for generations to come.… (more)
LibraryThing member sgerbic
Reviewed August 2006

I had often heard mentioned Frederik Douglass, I know he was asked to advise Lincoln twice and I have a nice portrait of this man taken at the Lincoln museum. Now I have so much more knowledge - to read his accounts of slavery are jaw-dropping. I want to travel to Maryland and look the descendants of these slave-owners and whip them. Douglass is very clear in his idea of Christianity - there is real Christianity that follows Gods teachings. Then there is the Christianity of the slave-owners, the hypocrisy of that time and place. To beat a slave and quote the Bible while doing it sounds so insane. Douglass gives us much detail in some accounts and leaves out much about his wife and what happened to many of the slaves he left. Now I am very curious to read what were the reactions after this book came out. Where are the descendants of Douglass now? I want to know more.

21-2006
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LibraryThing member ritabk1966
Frederick Douglass writes in detail about his early life as a slave and how he was determined to learn to read and escape slavery. It is an inspiring and fascinating read.
LibraryThing member stipe168
well written, gets you really riled up and pissed off at America's treatment of human beings. righteous hair.
LibraryThing member teagueamania
One of the most worthwhile American history books you can read, written by a completely self-taught slave, who reveals our current education system as a farce, much as he did the governmental, religious, and social structure of his time for accepting chattel slavery. Short and easy to find free online.
LibraryThing member ahooper04
Amazing story of Frederick Douglass's struggle for freedom and then for the rights and freedom of African-Americans.
LibraryThing member awhayouseh
A first-person account of the brutality of slavery and the personal drive to free the self from its hold.
LibraryThing member break
DouglassThis is the autobiography of a former slave, who freed himself in the 1830s. It has a calm, matter-of-fact tone, that greatly enhances the power of the narrative. He doesn’t try to exaggerate the horrors of slavery. nor does he pink a rosy picture. Just shares his personal story as he lived it. A, thinking, intelligent man, who analyzed the circumstances and saw deeper into the causes, than most. Later he became prominent in the abolitionist movement and other progressive issues. For example he was one of the people who signed the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848, the first document in the US asking for equal rights for women. Having said all of this, it is also a novel, easy to follow even 160 years later. But knowing that every word of it is true makes it more extraordinary.… (more)
LibraryThing member juliabeth
This is an important work in any historical/cultural study of the time period and/or the institution of slavery. As a project by a man who was not allowed to learn to read, it is astounding. He is very thorough and reasoned and shares his reasoning meticulously; for example, why he does not give more details about his escape; and he is painstaking in his responses to expected critiques. Impressive.… (more)

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