Letter from Frederick Douglass

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Letters of an Ex-Slave
Freedom is a very loose term which is interpreted differently by people of diverse heritage and culture. In the 1800's and earlier it was believed by some that it was their "freedom" to be able to buy and sell fellow mankind on an open market, to be used as property for the betterment of the slaveholder's own fortune. In this essay I will look at a letter from Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave, to Thomas Auld, his former master. The correspondence was in the form of an open public letter to Auld on the tenth anniversary of Douglass' abolition. The letter could be considered an "autoethnographic text" which Mary Louise Pratt defines in her essay, Arts of the Contact Zone, "a text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them" (519). I will analyze the different points that make this unique piece of literature an art of the contact zone.

Douglass begins his letter by describing the duos' relationship as "long and intimate, though by no means friendly." He goes on to point out that even after he had run away and emancipated himself from the torturous life of slavery, Auld continued to express his "ownership" of Douglass by posting fliers offering a sum for his arrest (Douglass 1). Douglass then agrees with Auld that "a man guilty of theft, robbery, or murder has forfeited the right to concealment." This statement builds a solid foundation for when Douglass begins to explain his beliefs on equality, morality, and manhood.

"The very first mental effort that I now remember on my part was an attempt to solve the mystery—why am I a slave?" Douglass uses this question as a very strong introduction to his explanation and justification of why he ran away. He goes on to describe the way he felt each time he heard the cries of the slave-women as they were whipped and beaten. He describes how he ran to the corner of the fence and would weep in fear. This makes a strong...
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