Reviewed by Ambrea
In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass describes the atrocities he was forced to face and the horrific conditions he endured—and from which he fled—as a slave. Born in Tuckahoe, Maryland, sometime in 1818 (Douglass never did uncover the exact day of his birth), he spent his entire adolescence and much of his young adult life as a slave. He recounts how he learned to read and write—in part, thanks to the attentions of Mrs. Auld, who was kind-hearted in her own way—as well as his good fortune in escaping through the written word, and how he learned to fight back against an institution that harbored only brutality and prompted excessive violence.
Douglass’ narrative is incredibly detailed and exceptionally well-written. Besides illuminating the various wrongdoings of slaveholders—which, by the way, Douglass shows no fear in naming names (such as the heinous Mr. Covey, the more mild-mannered Mr. and Mrs. Auld, and Colonel Lloyd, among others) and revealing the very worst crimes against humankind—and offering an intimate glance into the conditions under which slaves suffered, Douglass weaves an impressive tale of human survival and, more importantly, hope.
His constant struggle, his never-ending fight to achieve freedom from slavery and ignorance, and his flight from oppression are guaranteed to pluck at a reader’s heartstrings. He has inspired many people throughout history and, more importantly, has spurred the formation of schools, including a local high school, the Douglass School High School, of Bristol, VA—which you can read more about here: Douglass School Remembered.
Personally, I enjoyed reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Although it feels dense, being a reflection of the style of the time, I found it to be deep and thought-provoking, and more than a little impressive. Douglass has written a narrative well worth reading, and certainly excellent in telling the true story of one man’s suffering in slavery.
I highly recommend reading it, at least once, if not for the historical education, then for the human aspect of it—for the impact it has emotionally. Douglass’ narrative reveals the sheer barbarity of slavery and provides a detailed recollection of unprovoked cruelty toward African American men and women. He reveals every terrible facet of slavery, and he does so without ever altering his purpose or concealing real facts behind vague language. He adamantly refuses to mask the monstrosities of slavery as he saw and experienced them.
It’s a small book, but it packs a wallop.