Frederick Douglass Dehumanization

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The Destruction of Dehumanization

Slavery has shaped and transformed history in a way that is indescrible. These horrific encounters have been depicted through several sources that allow the audience to fully grasp the atrocity of slavery at its finest. For example, through the book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass as well as the film 12 Years a Slave, the audience is able to develop a better understanding of the viewpoints of both the slaves and the slave holders. As a result, these perspectives add to the overall effectiveness of each piece and demonstrate how slavery is directly linked to dehumanization.

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Therefore, it is evident that The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and 12 Years a Slave convey how slavery dehumanizes both the slave and the slave holder due to the affliction that is inflicted upon slaves in addition to the ruthless deameanour of slave owners.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass embodies the blatant torture the slave owners inflict on their slaves through the perspective of the slaves. The idea that slaves are not worthy enough to be considered human is highly repetitive throughout this book. Because of this, it is easy to recognize that during this time period, slaves meant nothing but “property” to their owners. This is evident through fear the slaves demonstrate throughout Douglass’s narrative. The slaves were mortified and feared their lives constantly. For example, “His presence made it both the field of blood and blasphemy from the rising till the going down of the sun, he was cursing, raving, cutting and slashing among the slaves of the field in the most frightful manner” (Douglass 19). This state of mind as exemplified by the slaves is what adds to the overall idea of dehumanization. This is because the audience is able to understand just how terrified the slaves were for their lives because they were constantly treated poorly. The slaves were considered nothing less than a pulse to their owners.

In addition to this, slavery dehumanized the slaves because of the treatment of their owners. By this, the slave owners do whatever they can in order to tear the slaves apart for anything they say or do. An example of this in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is how the slave owners treat their horses with more care than the slaves. The horses were always the priority and they always ensured their safety. For instance, “They were frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped whipping when most deserving it” (22). This reveals how they were congnant of their ruthless behavior toward slaves and made sure to treat the horses better than that. This example in the book is important because it conveys the extremity of how far the slave owners will go to make the slaves feel purposeless. Through both of these scenarios in the book, it is clear that the slaves are dehumanized as for they are treated horribly and are under psychological trauma.

However, the book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass not only shows the dehumanization of the slaves but the slave owners themselves. This is because the slave owners are brain-washed by slavery. By this, it is meant that they use their power in the wrong manner and that they tend to go out of control. It is obvious that the slave owners only care about power and profit, rather than the slave’s wellingbeings. For instance, “This is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable… sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father” (14). Another important factor is that slave owners do not see anything wrong in what they are doing and they are hypnotized to brainwash their slaves into thinking they are meaningless. An example of this in the story is how the slaves to ensure that they do not know any information about their family. Family plays a prominent role in one’s life and the slave owners believe that they are not worthy enough to know this information. In this case, the slave owners take the places of their family members and are seen as the parents. They believe they play an equivalent role to one’s parents because they make the rules and are willing to punish if they don’t follow.

In relation to Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave, the film embodies the unhealthy relationship between the slaves and their owners. More importantly, Northup focuses on the how dehumanization is a result of slavery similarly to The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The slaves were not considered worthy enough to have human characteristics. For example, in the movie, the slaves were not allowed to be educated, to make money, and experienced physical trauma. All three of these characteristics were highlighted in the movie through graphic and weary scenes. To start, the slaves were not permitted to read or write. Both of these abilities play a very large role in one’s everyday life. The reason why the slave owners in the movie 12 Years a Slave strongly believe that slaves were not entitled to an education is because they did not want the slaves to know about their freedom. An example of this in the film is when Solomon, renamed Platt, is given a shopping list by Mary Epps. Solomon is able to read the list off due to his past knowledge of reading and writing. To start, he was a free man until he was abducted.

This situation was difficult for Platt because he had to pretend that he had no knowledge of reading and writing. Her uncertainty let alone her inquisition of his knowledge surprises her in a way that is opposite than expected. She is thankful that Platt was able to complete this task for her. Secondly, the slaves were dehumanized as a result of not being able to make a living. A scene in this movie that depicts this is when a white man named Arsby earns money to get back on his feet. He makes money and is rewarded by not suffering any physical torture. In addition to this, the slaves experience a great deal of pshycological and physical torture in the movie. The slaves are whipped, beaten, and tortured.

Although this is a recurring theme throughout the film, there are many scenes with skin-raising images. For instance, Platt is hung from a tree and left there choking and balancing on the tips of his feet so that he does not die. Another scene that has this same effect is when Platt is forced to whip his friend that he has a strong connection with. This slave named Patsey is subject to strip her clothes and be whipped. The Epps couple wants nothing more than choosing the most cruel and disgusting punishment possible. This is why they force Platt to forcefully whip her because they know that both Platt and Patsey with both be hurt. For these reasons, it is evident that slavery dehumanizes the slaves because they are not worthy to recieve humane treatment.

The film 12 Years a Slave also depicts how the slave owners are brainwashed to think they are not at fault. Throughout the movie, it is clear that the slave owners justify their actions to feel better about themselves. They do this so that they are superior than the slaves. In particularly, the slaveholders use the bible in order to justify their behavior. On Sunday’s, Master Ford has the slaves attend church services. His actions show how he has no respect towards the slaves. Furthermore, Ford’s actions also portray how he wants the slaves to believe that because the Bible said it, that it is the truth. These words are from God and the slave owners are just doing what the have to do to follow the Bible.

Similarly to The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the slave owners in the film also ensure that the slaves are filled with false information. In this case, the slave owners create fake names so that the slaves have false identities. They do this so that the slaves are degraded to the point where they have to forget everything about their past and adapt to a new heartbreaking lifestyle. This theme is where the plot of the movie begins. Solomon Northup is kidnapped, stripped from his family and loved ones, and forced into slavery. Upon his arrival, he is given a fake identity. His name and origin is changed to “Platt for Georgia”. This is yet another example of how the slave owners were dehumanized because they have the need to create fake backgrounds for the slaves so that they are deemed as unimportant.

Through both The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and 12 Years a Slave, it is certain that both the slaves and their owners are dehumanized. The slaves are stripped from their Human Rights and it is the slave owners duty to alter them. All of the torture, cruelty, abuse, permits the audience to understand the severity of the slavery during this time period. It is important to recognize the mind-blowing impact slavery had upon both the slaves and the owners so that history does not repeat itself in the future.

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Frederick Douglass Dehumanization. (2021, Apr 19). Retrieved from