There were a number of ways that resistance was made against slavery. They were: intellectual, direct/physical, and cultural. Examples of these types of resistance are portrayed throughout the narrative of Fredrick Douglass. This essay will discuss the three types of resistance citing examples from the narrative of Fredrick Douglas. Such examples of resistances were effective and meaningful in different ways and ultimately contributed to the acknowledgment and recognition of the poor treatment of slaves. In the narrative these examples of resistance enabled Douglass and other slaves he talks about to resist their slave holders. Intellectual resistance was one way in which Frederick Douglass resisted slavery. By becoming literate, he was resisting slavery as he was learning to read and write, which was not allowed among slaves. Reading allowed slaves to gain knowledge that their treatment was wrong, and writing was a means for them to voice their concerns and opinions regarding their treatment as slaves, which became a threat to the slave-owners.1 For example, in the Narrative Douglass describes a conversation that took place between his slave-owner to his wife, after she is caught teaching Douglass to read. “If you give a Nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A Nigger should know nothing but to obey his master-to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best Nigger in the world.2” This quote reflects the threat felt by slave owners. Reading would allow ‘niggers’ (sic) the ability to gain knowledge to question the status quo and not to just do as they were told by their slave owners. Though he was forbidden from learning to read and write Douglass continued to do so in secret. Douglass continued learning by gaining help from the children of the white lower class, who were as poor as he was but were gaining an education.3 He would exchange bread from his master’s house for this precious knowledge from the white neighbourhood children.4 This exchange proved to be beneficial for him as well as the children, as the children were gaining food to eat, whilst he was continuing to better himself by learning5. Douglass learnt how to write while he was working in a ship-yard, where he learnt to recognize and then later identify the lettering on pieces of timber which he then preceded to copy and memorize.6 He then furthered his writing skills by copying out of spelling books and practising on his master’s copy-book7. Learning to read and write enabled Douglass to convey his thoughts and feelings into words and onto paper. This is significant because Douglass’ writings have subsequently provided later generations with an insight in his plight as a slave and also how he resisted. Direct/physical resistance was another form of resistance used by Frederick Douglass. An example of this was when Douglass retaliated against Mr Covey by physically beating him8. This occurred after having endured six long months of hard labour and abuse at the hands of Mr Covey.9 The incident was also a turning point for Douglass, because it gave him a new found confidence and reawakened his desire to be free, and also his desire to continue reading and writing. Towards the end of the Narrative, Douglass runs away from Mr Auld. This can be seen as a direct/physical resistance because rather than stay and conform to the slave-master relation, his will to be free is stronger and he decides to outwardly resist by running away.10 Both of the incidents highlighted above are effective in that it demonstrates a point at which Douglass is making a stand for what he believes and resolves to work towards that. He desired to be free and to do so he needed to continue learning. His running away can be seen as his ultimate resistance and challenge of slavery and what it comes with. Cultural resistance for Douglass came in the form of songs that were sung by the slaves. Singing was often a big part of slave life. Slaves would often sing whilst they were...
Bibliography: 1. Douglass, Frederick, ‘Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself’, in David W. Blight, ed., Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Written by Himself with related documents, 2nd ed., New York, 2003.
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