African American Literature
Thematic Techniques in Narrative of a Slave
Fredrick Douglass uses a multitude of literary conventions and themes to help demonstrate the injustices of slavery in his Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglass. Some thematic constructs, such as first hand accounts of slave beatings, prove themselves to be self-serving in a much more grim way than other themes, such as hope and literacy, throughout the narrative. However good or evil each theme is, Douglass encircles each with a certain frankness and allure that creates a sense of empathy and sympathy towards himself and other African American slaves. The most prevalent themes within Douglass’ Narrative: inequality, education, and an urban environment.
Possibly the most prevalent theme found throughout Narrative is that of inequality. Douglass goes to great lengths in his efforts to humanize the African American slave by illustrating the predominant views held by whites. Slaves were not humans or even animals to most southern whites and the racial disparities created due to this belief prove themselves to be immoral at least. Fredrick Douglass perceives these gross racial inequalities at a young age: 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. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. (395) Here Douglass is illustrating the inequalities of society through the eyes of an innocent young boy who simply wishes for his mother. This naivety, in regards to the unequal world in which Douglass lives, demonstrates to the reader the affects such immense inequalities within a society can have on its youth. The sheer fact that he did not know the details of...