The Institution of Slavery’s Corruption of the White Slaveholder

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The Institution of Slavery’s Corruption of the White Slaveholder

By | April 2008
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In Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, one of the major themes is how the institution of slavery has an effect on the moral health of the slaveholder. The power slaveholders have over their slaves is great, as well as corrupting. Douglass uses this theme to point out that the institution of slavery is bad for everyone involved, not just the slaves. Throughout the narrative, Douglass uses several of his former slaveholders as examples. Sophia Auld, once such a kind and caring woman, is transformed into a cruel and oppressive slave owner over the course of the narrative. Thomas Auld, also. Douglass ties this theme back to the main concern of authorial control. Although this is a personal account, it is also a tool of propaganda, and is used as such. Douglass’s intent is to convince readers that the system of slavery is horrible and damaging to all included, and thus should be abolished completely. Douglass makes it very clear in his examples how exactly the transformation occurs and how kind and moral people can become those who beat their slaves and pervert Christianity in an attempt to justify it.

When Douglass moves to Baltimore, he becomes the property of Hugh Auld. There he is cared for by Hugh’s wife, Sophia. The reader’s first impressions of Sophia are favorable; she is a warm, gentle woman who wishes to teach Douglass to read and write. Douglass himself is surprised at how kind she is at first, and he mentions that Sophia Auld has never owned slaves before, and therefore has not been affected by the evils of slavery. Douglass notes that she does not wish to punish him just to keep him subservient like his former masters did, and she does not beat him or even mind at all when Douglass looks her in the eyes. Sophia also teaches Douglass the alphabet and several words. However, her husband Hugh, who has already undergone the transformation that slavery causes, immediately orders her to stop when he hears of...

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