Frederick Douglass’ Life as a Slave

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass written by Frederick Douglass, Douglass writes about his life as a slave and up to his escape to freedom. Frederick Douglass goes into depth of how he survived the daily physical and mental brutalities of his multiple owners and his various encounted with people he considered as family. He additionally writes on how he learned to read and write and how he grew into a man whos single desire was to be free.

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Although Frederick Douglass’ was a slave in form, his various life experiences as a slave led him to conclude he no longer was a slave in fact, in which he pursued his life as a free man both legally and mentally. To be a slave in form is to physically and legally be a slave.

As Douglass was born into slavery, he was a slave in form. But he had encounters throughout his life in which he understood his place as a slave and how it progressively dehumanized him. In the narrative, Douglass explains that when slaves would sing it was not because they were happy but because they were unhappy as he writes, every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness (). Douglass expresses the dehumanization of slavery in which he expresses that songs were slaves crying out for help. He goes on to say that even the sound of the songs would overflow him with sadness.

This comes to reveal how the little differences in life such as a song, portrayed how the dehumanizing effect on slavery was, and how it slowly led Douglass to pursue his freedom. Throughout the narrative, it is determined how unjust slaves were treated, as Frederick Douglass states, To all these complaints, no matter how unjust the slave must answer never a word (28). Slaves did not have voice, regardless if they believed what they were being punished for was correct or wrong. Slaves remained slaves in form and had no freedom or will to say anything because legally they were just a slaveholders property. This provided slaves the knowledge of how being a slave is unjust and it helps Douglass, over time, to realize how erroneous slavery was. These two life experiences Douglass went through contributes to his knowledge in which he was informed of the evils of slavery and how it engaged his pursuit towards being legally and mentally free.

A slave in fact is a slave who is mentally a slave. Throughout Douglass’ life he sees the mental power he has and he quickly realizes he is not a slave in fact. The battle with Mr. Covey allows Douglass to gain back his spirits and manly hood in which he writes the battle was the turning-point in [his] career as a slave (71). This fight was an immense win for Douglass, mentally as it enlarged his confidence. This fight brought back his courage and let him feel as if he had been reborn from the tomb of slavery. This is the first step into Douglass’ path in accepting he was no longer a slave in fact.

Douglass expresses while still discussing his triumph against Covey that [his] long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place (71). Although his fight with Covey was an immense win for him, this moment when he resolves his long-crushed spirit, represented him a mentally free. Douglass’ fight with Mr. Covey led him to conclude he was not mentally slave but that he was mentally free. Frederick Douglass’ state of mind in which he was no longer a slave mentally led to many of his triumphs and allowed him to be mentally free.

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Frederick Douglass' Life as a Slave. (2020, Mar 13). Retrieved from