A True Master in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave easily directs its readers toward a brutal slavery account full of physical torment and psychological abuse. The narrative abounds with horrifying accounts of beating, whipping, hunger and cold that all the slaves endured. Furthermore, during the slavery era, slaveholders completely ignored the human rights of African Americans: freedom, liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the book, owners have the power to decide their slaves’ destinies. However, traces of slaveholders’ vulnerabilities, reflected in their psychology and behaviors, indicate that they are not masters of their own lives, whereas Frederick Douglass, born as a slave and enslaved for about twenty years, finally achieves his freedom with his mental strength and maturity, a true sign of mastery of one’s own life. One can trace slave owners’ vulnerability in their inability to resist their sexual urges toward female slaves despite their justification that Africans are less than human beings. This justification began as a means for colonial countries to permit slavery and its brutalizing practice in hopes to gain a substantial amount of wealth through cheap labor. In addition to making Africans slaves, white people controlled African slaves under the horrifying and adverse circumstance in which “[a] thrill of horror flashed through every soul” (36), and slaves “suffered little from any thing else than hunger and cold” (39). The use of vocabulary such as “horror” and “suffered” highlights the immensity of slaves’ sufferings. In order to rationalize their actions, slave masters treat Africans like mere living property whose deaths do not count as murder even though they are killed by a white person. As Douglass illustrates when he writes, “killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot country, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community” (37), a community or a society, as a whole, is what intimidates a certain racial group. Furthermore, slave-owners strengthen the power of this idea by instilling it into Africans’ minds as well as whites’, slowly and unconsciously dismantling slaves’ souls and minds so that they can control the slaves with ease. In spite of the intensity of this psychological manipulation, which makes Africans less than human, white people so simply ridicule themselves by bedding with their female slaves—according to their definition, bedding with a mere object. The irony further develops in slaveholders’ relationship with God. Unlike the logical prediction that one would expect—that religion makes slave owners realize their wrongdoings and sometimes inspires them to free their slaves or, at least, to lessen the burden and horror of the slaves—religion, for them, functions to excuse their evil and to decrease their guilt. The religious practice of Master Thomas Auld especially shows the hypocrisy of slave masters in chapter nine. According to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, no matter how mean a slave owner is, an unspoken rule says that he must give enough food for his slaves regardless of the quality of the food. Nevertheless, Master Thomas Auld and his wife “would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store” (62), while their slaves are starving from hunger and the pain caused by it. What is more, religious masters were not just mean; they were the cruelest of all. Mr. Weeden, a member of the Reformed Methodist Church, brutally lashes his female slave under the name of God. The true power of religion—guidance and affection from God upon an individual and purification of one’s soul—fails to operate upon these evil masters. However, the religion for these despicable souls is “a mere covering for the most horrid crimes” (82). In other words, slaveholders “find the strongest protection”...
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