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Social Darwinism - Kositz Christine Kositz English 121 Dr...

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Kositz Christine Kositz English 121 Dr. Kajs 15 November 2007 Social Darwinism as Seen in Douglass’ Narrative Frederick Douglass, though free from slavery, is eternally imprisoned. The role Social Darwinism played in Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is critical in understanding Douglass’ endless captivity. Social Darwinism has its roots in Darwinism, as introduced by Charles Darwin, a revolutionary biologist who advocated that evolution was based on natural selection. Deficiencies in an inferior race or species would cause them to die; leaving only the superior traits to progress in a given environment. This theory gave rise to the slogan “survival of the fittest.” Social Darwinists, then, argued that social progress resulted from conflicts in which the fittest or best adapted individuals, or entire societies, would prevail. These best adapted individuals in Douglass’ Narrative are the white community. In other words, white literate individuals would oppress the inferior illiterate individuals until the fittest prevail. To understand this theory, one must first understand why black slaves were seen as inferior to the white community. Inferiority is defined as lower in station, rank, degree, or grade, or lower in place or position, or closer to the ground. Slaves were forced to complete tasks with haste or the slaves’ masters would physically whip them until “red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from [the slave], and horrid oaths from [the master]) came dripping to the floor” (Douglass 52). In order to establish superiority, the white 1
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Kositz slave masters would psychologically, as well as physically, control their inferiors. Lisa Sisco, a professor at Johnson & Wales University and established author, argued that not only are slaves inferior, or enslaved, physically but psychologically as well. She explained that, “illiteracy was the basis for arguing that slaves were subhuman, since man’s capacity for reason (as reflected in literacy) was the ultimate means of differentiating him from the beasts.” Douglass compared himself to beasts, such as horses, throughout his autobiography. He stated, “by far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant” (Douglass 47). Douglass noted how Colonel Lloyd’s “stable and carriage-house presented the appearance of some of our large city livery establishments” and if the horses looked malnourished, the slave in care of those horses would be whipped severely (60). Douglass and his fellow-slaves were treated as subhuman because the masters believed the slaves didn’t know any more than to surrender to their orders.
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