Maxims in the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”

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In the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, Douglass descriptively portrays life as a slave, both through his eyes, and the eyes of others. He provides amazing views on how slaves of different circumstances lived. He also depicts many maxims, or unwritten rules, throughout the book that knew of and lived by. These maxims were passed by word of mouth and were generally known throughout the slave society. Maxims helped slaves in a multitude of ways, essentially bettering their lives.

Maxims used by slaves, gave them hope for the future. They looked for things to better daily life, they looked for a source of hope; one of these sources was God. Douglass states that, “The good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanks and praise.” (Page 273) God was especially important throughout daily tasks of slave life because God helped give slaves something to look forward to. Slaves believed that all of the suffering they endured was for a purpose and that it wasn’t going un-noticed. They believed God justified all of this and that he would make it right in the end. Yet, before they could reach God, slaves still had to put up with a gruesome slave life.

Slaves looked towards maxims to keep aware and stay out of harms way. The last thing a slave wanted was a whipping. Being caught doing something wrong would almost ensure a punishment of some kind. This is where the maxim “A still tongue makes a wise head”(page 266) becomes useful, as explained by Frederick Douglass. This basically meant that if you watch what you say, you’re less likely to be accused of something bad. Slaves kept this rule in mind especially around overseers and masters. It kept them safe, which in turn benefited their lives. It was a simple worded rule that was arduous to live by. By living by this rule, Douglass stayed on his master’s good side and was eventually chosen to live in Baltimore with the Auld family.

Maxims developed from previous knowledge guided slaves to wiser choices. An...
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