Review – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

It is important to understand who exactly Frederick Douglass was and his vital role within the historical movement that sought to achieve the abolition of slavery. Slavery as an institution had (and sadly still does in some parts of the modern world) existed for as long as mankind had. It is an institution which has affected all nations and creeds without discrimination, having only recently been gradually removed. This first happened in 1807 within Great Britain and its empire, and its abolition finally reaching the United States of America in 1865. Frederick Douglass’s place within the latter country’s story is a complicated one. He was an individual that was being emancipated, whilst simultaneously the individual doing the emancipating itself.

The nature of Douglass’s book is the presentation of the institution that made slavery in its full nature, presenting a clear image of the typical life of an American slave. With the graphic details of this institution being displayed, we see a young Douglass being placed into this world. Illiterate and unknowing of how and what placed him into this world do we see Douglass’s development from being a young boy into a man. Throughout the book does Douglass do a good job of explaining his thoughts and feelings regarding the environment he grows up. This becomes ever more relevant when regarding his escape and his personal philosophies. From this, the book is not merely a detailed description of the life of slave but of the hope and faith an individual can maintain even in the face of bondage. The life we are presented with is that of turmoil and pain, and yet the underlying message and power lays in between the lines.

That message is the power of education and knowledge, with Douglass showing a dedication towards the privilege of having both. As many would know, education (at least formal education) was something that slaves in America were not allowed to have. Due to this, Douglass developed a secret passion and desire to become educated. The undertones of these actions filter through the pages of the book for the reader. The nature of education was not the answer for Douglass’s escape from bondage. Instead, it was the personification of a key tool for the self-liberation of himself to occur. The importance of education and freedom become things which endure within the human spirit, even for the life of an American slave. In addition to this, we follow Douglass’s life with the anecdotes he informs us of – from not knowing his own birthday; the speculation that his father may have been his owner; to the acquisition of skilled labour within a shipyard. All these insights into Douglass’s life become integral parts of what makes a man’s foundations.

Overall, An American Slave is not just a book that explains the mere horrors of American slavery. It is instead a detailed and beautiful case for the power of individuals who are placed within the confines they seek to escape from. Douglass’ narrative exposes the universal truth that education is not merely the answer to learn new things alone. Instead, education should be a vital tool for individuals to overcome adversity in whatever shape it may appear as.

Featured image credit: Wikipedia


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