Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Study Guide

Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Douglass discusses Captain Anthony and his family. Captain Anthony is a superintendent on a plantation owned by Colonel Edward Lloyd, who grows tobacco, corn, and wheat. The wheat crop is shipped to Baltimore; slaves who man the ship that takes the crop to Baltimore are envied by the others.

Colonel Lloyd has a plantation called Great House Farm and several neighboring farms. His wealth affords him the luxury of hiring overseers to supervise the slaves. Mr. Severe is one, a cruel man with a fitting name who is vile in temperament and behavior. He dies and is replaced by the kindly Mr. Hopkins. The slaves call Mr. Hopkins a good overseer.

The amount of clothing that slaves receive is woefully inadequate. The lack of clothes is particularly notable in children. Douglass says that children under 10 are often naked.

Slaves sleep on the floor. Their bedding consists of "one coarse blanket," and children get nothing. Despite the poor conditions, the slaves are able to sleep because their work is so exhausting. They are awakened each morning by a horn that summons them to the field.

Slaves want to be sent on errands to the Great House Farm, as they consider it a demonstration of the overseer's confidence in them. As they travel through the woods to the farm, they sing loudly. The songs often, if not always, contain impromptu lyrics that are deeply moving. Douglass writes, "They would make the dense old woods for miles around reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness."

Douglass says he did not understand the songs when he was a child, but as an adult, the songs "deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds." Douglass notes that people sometimes mistake the songs as evidence that slaves are content. The truth is, the songs help to drown out the slaves' sorrows.

Analysis

While Douglass is kept in the dark about certain key details about his own background, he is quite clear on the background of his master, Captain Anthony, who works for someone else.

There is also a hierarchy in the slaves' world. Those who are at the Great House Farm are elevated because they are at a more comfortable place. Certain jobs, such as working on the sloop, and certain tasks, like going on errands to the Great House Farm, are desirable. The slaves' desire for these prized jobs and errands is a reminder of how little power and how few choices they have.

One of Douglass's goals in his Narrative is to explain the intricacies of slavery. Slaves have few outlets for their emotions, as they are kept busy with work. Music, especially singing, is an outlet for their aching souls. Douglass says this is something Northerners do not understand. Douglass is calling for those in the North to hear the cries of his chained brethren.

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