“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”

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Updated: Mar 23, 2021
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Throughout this semester’s readings I have distinguished one text as my favorite and one as my least favorite. The text, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”, is the one text that stood out the most to me. The impact that this narrative has on the world that we live in as we know it is enormous. The vivid description of how hard of a life that slaves had to live in the past is very impactful and Frederick Douglass does a great job in painting a picture of it. Douglass uses his real-life experiences to make his story really hits the heart. The sense of relatability and the lesson this text teaches makes it one of the best text that we read this semester. This text was much more impactful and relatable than “The Heart of Darkness” in my eyes because “The Heart of Darkness” seems to be taking a step backwards for the people, rather than a step forward as depicted in “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas”.

The picture that Frederick Douglass paints shows just how the slavery system in the United States degraded African Americans. This is very impactful because it isn’t exaggerated in anyway as it is coming straight from the life that Douglass lived. The narrative shows how badly the slaves were treated by the slave masters. Douglass describes the significance that food played on the lives of the slaves. Slave masters used food as a sense of control over the slaves that they owned. The slaves were given just enough food to survive. This is ironic because the slave masters treat the slaves like machines but hardly give them enough food to fuel their bodies. The lively hood of the plantation owners depends on the work of the slaves to put food on their own table but hardly give the slaves enough food to survive. One thing that really stood out was when Douglass tells “We were not regularly allowanced. Our food was coarse corn meal boiled. This was called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and sat down upon the ground.” (230). This describes his childhood experiences of how he was fed his food. The slave masters treated the children like animals while they were young. They did this in order to implant this into their minds at a younger age. This degraded the slaves and made them believe that they were not an equal to the white people. The picture that was painted in my mind when I read this really taught me just how bad slavery was and this was one of the driving forces in making this the best story we read.

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The power that knowledge plays in Douglass’s life is one of the driving forces throughout this text and forms the whole story in my eyes. The knowledge that Douglas obtained did not come easy. It was seen as unlawful and unsafe to teach slaves. Douglass tells how his progress in obtaining knowledge was cut short when “Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it is unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read” (232). This describes just how much fear the slave owners had in educating the slaves. The slave owners even knew that the power of knowledge would end the institution of slavery. Douglass uses the power he gains from education to work for his freedom. The sense of power that Douglass sees in knowledge is endless in his eyes. He even believed that if all slaves were educated, they would be nearly untouchable and end the slavery system where it stood. This was a real eye opener to me because in today’s time, knowledge and education tends to be taken for granted. This narrative teaches that combining knowledge with courage and determination, anything is possible.

What made “The Heart of Darkness” my least favorite text is the fact that Conrad portrays the native African people as monsters. The text describes the native Africans as monsters just because they are not civilized in the eyes of the Europeans. Conrad describes Marlow and the crew’s experience with the natives in a very vivid but disturbing way. The narrator, Marlow, says “we are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of the monster, but there- there you could look at the thing monstrous and free.” (Conrad 44) This quote is very disturbing in my eyes as it is depicting the native people as monsters and wants the readers to see them as scary.

The fact that “The Heart of Darkness” is used in a way to degrade the natives of Africa and depict how the Europeans are a greater race is one thing that makes this story very hard to enjoy. The text compares the ways and culture of the Europeans as being the “civilized” way while the ways of the Africans is deemed “uncivilized”. The African natives cannot control the fact that the things they do are different than the Europeans and should not have their humanity depleted. The main focus throughout the text is the fact that Europe is affecting the culture of the African natives and instead of looking at this as a bad thing, the Europeans find a way to justify their actions. This is because the Europeans see the changes they are forcing on the African culture as making Africa more “civilized”.

The reason I see “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” as the best is because of the huge advancements in regards to human race. Frederick Douglass depicts his life as it was lived without trying to judge the way others lived, even though he was being treated terribly as a slave. Douglass never dehumanized anybody in his text but used his experiences to depict the pain that the slaves felt throughout their lives. Joseph Conrad’s text seemed to do the opposite in my eyes because it seemed to bring one race down, which was the Native Africans, while depicting the Europeans as a greater power. This just seemed to be the exact opposite of Frederick Douglass’s narrative as it created a separation in the Europeans and the so-called “savages” which were the natives. The sense of power that Douglass obtains was earned through his exceptional knowledge while the power held in “The Heart of Darkness” is simply because of the thought that Europeans are the Greater race. I see the narrative of Frederick Douglass as a piece of literature that can tie everyone together and achieve greatness, as Douglass did himself.

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“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass-an-american-slave/