Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is the sometimes graphic but always stirring story of a man born into bondage yet striving for freedom. Sentimentality and romanticism of life in the 1880's American south is conspicuously absent from this work. Rather, Douglass writes with sharp clarity of the reality faced daily by slaves in the American south.
Through his use of vibrant yet unembellished prose, Douglass transports the reader into his struggles for daily survival, sharing hope and a longing for freedom. With directness and love of his fellow bondsmen, Douglass speaks of his early life.
The themes of time, memory, cyclicality, belonging, and the search for one's “place,” frequent in African American literature, resonate in this narrative. Born the child of a white father, possibly the master, and a black slavewoman, Frederick Douglass begins his story searching for a sense of belonging. He belongs fully to neither the black community nor the white community. By the time he is a year old, Douglass is taken from his mother, leaving him with no sense of family. The only group to which he belongs is the slaves. But within that group, there are many levels.
A repeated victim of dispora, Frederick Douglass must find one element of his life that can remain constant. From home to home he is moved, and gradually he learns to read. In this single act, Douglass sets himself apart from the mainly illiterate slave population, and his cycle of searching begins anew. His desire for freedom continues to grow, even as his various masters attempt to remove from him the spirit that gives him the courage to go on. To enable his fellow slaves to dream of lives beyond bondage, Douglass takes joy in secretly teaching his enslaved companions to read.
This report prepared by Eva Biediger