Slaveholding as a Perversion of Christianity Over the course of the Narrative

Slaveholding as a perversion of christianity over the

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Slaveholding as a Perversion of Christianity Over the course of the Narrative, Douglass develops a distinction between true Christianity and false Christianity. Douglass clarifies the point in his appendix, calling the former “the Christianity of Christ” and the latter “the Christianity of this land.” Douglass shows that slaveholders’ Christianity is not evidence of their innate goodness, but merely a hypocritical show that serves to bolster their self- righteous brutality. To strike this distinction, Douglass points to the basic contradiction between the charitable, peaceful tenets of Christianity and the violent, immoral actions of slaveholders. The character of Thomas Auld stands as an illustration of this theme. Like Sophia Auld, Thomas undergoes a transformation in the Narrative from cruel slave owner to even crueler slave owner. Douglass demonstrates that Auld’s brutality increases after he becomes a “pious” man, as Auld’s show of piety increases his confi-dence in his “God-given” right to hold and mistreat slaves. Through the instance of Auld, Douglass also demonstrates that the Southern church itself is corrupt. Auld’s church benefits from Auld’s money, earned by means of slaves. Thus Auld’s church, like many Southern churches, is complicit in the inhuman cruelty of slavery. Motifs The Victimization of Female Slaves Women often appear in Douglass’s Narrative not as full characters, but as vivid images—specifically, images of abused bodies. Douglass’s Aunt Hester, Henrietta and Mary, and Henny, for example, appear only in scenes that demonstrate their masters’ abuse of them. Douglass’s depcitions of the women’s mangled and emaciated bodies are meant to incite pain and outrage in the reader and point to the unnaturalness of the institution of slavery. The Treatment of Slaves as Property Throughout the Narrative, Douglass is concerned with showing the discrepancy between the fact that slaves are human beings and the fact that slave owners treat them as property. Douglass shows how slaves frequently are passed between owners, regardless of where the slaves’ families are. Slave owners value slaves only to the extent that they can perform productive labor; they often treat slaves like livestock, mere animals, without reason. Douglass pre-sents this treatment of humans as objects or animals as cruel and absurd. Freedom in the City Douglass’s Narrative switches settings several times between the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland and the city of Baltimore. Baltimore is a site of relative freedom for Douglass and other slaves. This freedom results from the standards of decency set by the nonslaveholding segment of the urban population—standards that generally prevent slaveholders from demonstrating extreme cruelty toward their slaves. The city also stands as a place of increased possibility and a more open society. It is in Baltimore that Douglass
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meets for the first time whites who oppose slavery and who regard Douglass as a human being. By contrast, the countryside is a place of heightened surveillance of slaves by slaveholders. In the countryside, slaves enjoy the least amount of freedom and mobility.
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  • Spring '07
  • McMillan
  • Slavery in the United States, Douglass. Douglass

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