9 September 2014
Frederick DouglassTo read Frederick Douglass’ Life story and not be moved by the preponderance of genius weighing in at every turn of the page would surely place the reader at a disadvantage. I found my curiosity piqued by Mr. Douglass’s abundant self-awareness of the world around him, which strongly reinforced my resolve to not just show a man born into human bondage, but the growth of his intellect as well. Consequently, I initially felt compelled to base my critique and understanding upon my own visceral (i.e., emotional) gut reaction, almost reading past and, thereby, missing the intelligence which developed from split second choices made by Mr. Douglass on multiple, memorable occasions on whether to accept the status quo and live life as a slave, or build upon the wit gleaned from his surroundings and experience to not just gain his freedom, but to one day debate publically about slavery.
To that end, Mr. Douglass began his journey towards freedom by building from the insight provided him through a series of questions he asked himself (all through the first six chapters) with childlike innocence. The first being why some knew of their specific birth date while he and others simply used whole seasons to mark theirs. Mr. Douglass writes: “I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time” (Douglass, 20). Further deepening his innate curiosity was being told that all such inquiries would lead to the master being concerned and which “He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit” (Douglass, 20). From these two questions, combined with “Aunt Hester, who was brutally whipped by Captain Anthony”, in chapter one, sprang the building blocks of slavery and the horrors thereof. Undoubtedly this enabled Mr. Douglass’s young and impressionable mind to grasp the harsh reality of just how void of compassion a human being can be or become.
The intellectual maturity which begins to shine through, after Chapter XII, is when Mrs. Auld became swayed by her husband’s advice not to teach Mr. Douglass to read but, rather, to allow him to remain an uneducated slave. That’s when the cunningness of the mundane proved a blinding light to all who had partook in an evil system of government and sought to keep him bound in slavery. After all, Mr. Douglass knew all too well the intrinsic value of hunger, and what it could drive a person to do; a lesson taught to him by those who held him in bondage and sought to keep him in the dark. Bread, he realized, would help him achieve his goal of reading!
A simple exchange of physical bread to help ease the hunger pains of the poor whites, while he gained the true bread the bread of knowledge Douglass writes: “This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge” (Douglass, 52). At 12 years of age Mr. Douglass had already begun to realize the possibility of bringing the argument of slavery directly to the public square. “Have not I…