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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

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Course Hero. "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 July 2016. Web. 21 July 2017. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Narrative-of-the-Life-of-Frederick-Douglass/>.

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Course Hero. "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed July 21, 2017. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Narrative-of-the-Life-of-Frederick-Douglass/.

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Course Hero, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed July 21, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Narrative-of-the-Life-of-Frederick-Douglass/.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Frederick Douglass begins the narrative by stating where he is from: Tuckahoe, in Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass notes that he does not know his age, which he says is typical of slaves. He says he always felt that "a want of information ... was a source of happiness."

Douglass discusses the background of his mother, Harriet Bailey. He was separated from her when he was an infant, which is one way that masters strip slaves of their humanity. Because they met only a few times, and then only briefly, Douglass and his mother were unable to form a true bond. She dies when he is about seven years old. Hearing the news, Douglass describes his emotions as "much the same I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger."

Douglass says that he is not clear about the identity of his father; another way to dehumanize slaves is to keep them uninformed about the simple facts of their lives. The only thing Douglass knows for sure about his father is that he is white. Rumor has it that his father is his first master, Captain Anthony. Either way, there is a law that says that the children of slave women shall in all cases "follow the condition of the mother." Douglass explains that slaves who are the children of their masters "suffer greater hardships." The mistress usually sees the child as a reminder of her husband's infidelities and tends to be especially hard on the child. In such cases, the master usually sells the child. Douglass notes that there are many such children.

Slaves are born for one reason, and that is to serve their masters. Throughout his life, Douglass has two masters, beginning with Captain Anthony, who owns a few farms and about 30 slaves. He is especially cruel, and Douglass is often awakened in the night by the screams of slaves being whipped by Captain Anthony.

Douglass relates the terrible episode of Aunt Hester. She is a beautiful woman, and Captain Anthony is especially concerned about her comings and goings. Hester apparently had an ongoing love interest and was previously warned by Captain Anthony to discontinue it. As Douglass says, "My master had ordered her not to go out evenings and warned her that she must never let him catch her in company with a young man who was paying attention to her." When Hester defies him, Captain Anthony strips her, "leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked." He then ties her hands together and attaches them to a hook before calling her names and whipping her. Douglass is so scared that he hides in a closet, fearing that his turn is next.

Analysis

Autobiographies typically begin with the subject discussing his or her background. This initial information usually provides a solid foundation and springboard for the details that follow in the narrative. Douglass's Narrative is no different. Douglass tells the reader where he is from—but that is the end of his background information. As a former slave, he has few details on his own history, except for his approximate age when his mother died and the fact that his father is white.

Chapter 1 establishes Douglass's narrative style and announces his purpose: to educate readers about the horrors of slavery. His style of writing utilizes informal vocabulary and simple and direct language, reflecting the tastes of 19th-century readers. Although he reveals sensitive and horrific details about slavery, his style is straightforward, rarely becoming emotional. Though he does not explore his own emotions, he sometimes uses descriptions and images that elicit sympathy. For instance, when he sees ships on the Chesapeake Bay, they are beautiful to a freedman but look like "so many shrouded ghosts" to a slave. For the most part, he lets readers judge for themselves.

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