Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Study Guide

Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Colonel Lloyd has a beautiful garden on the plantation. People come to the plantation from all over to visit the garden. The garden abounds "in fruits of almost every description." For the slaves, who are poorly fed, the fruit is a great temptation. Douglass says that during the summer, "Scarcely a day passed ... but that some slave had to take the lash for stealing fruit." To prevent the slaves from stealing the fruit, the Colonel puts tar on the fence that surrounds the garden; slaves found to have tar on their bodies are whipped. The stealing stops.

The Colonel also keeps horses who are "of the finest form and noblest blood." The two slaves who manage the stable face a daunting task, as there is nothing that the Colonel is more particular about than the management of his horses. If the slaves do not meet the Colonel's unreasonable demands, they face severe punishment. When the Colonel expresses dissatisfaction to his slaves, "The slave must answer never a word." Instead, the slave must "stand, listen, and tremble."

Douglass notes the great wealth of the Colonel. Included in his wealth are more than 1,000 slaves, many of whom he does not know and who do not know him. One time the Colonel meets a slave who tells him he is owned by Colonel Lloyd. The Colonel does not share his identity and asks the slave how he is treated. The slave says not well. A few weeks later, the slave is sold "for having found fault with his master."

Spies are sometimes sent to ask slaves about the masters. If the slaves say anything, it is usually something positive, "especially when speaking to an untried man." Besides fear, another reason for this behavior, Douglass explains, is that the slaves "seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves."

Analysis

This chapter is filled with examples of irony, which the author leaves to his readers to recognize.

The garden is maintained by slaves, and so keeping the delicious fruit away from the slaves is doubly cruel. The gardens bring delight to those who visit, but its main purpose, feeding people, does not help the slaves.

The great care that the horses receive stands in stark contrast to how the master cares for his slaves. The horses' every need is considered. The needs of the slave are never recognized. Colonel Lloyd's inhumane priorities are an example of the ways in which slavery dehumanizes the slaveholder as much as it does the slaves. Douglass provides many such examples throughout the narrative.

Despite their horrific treatment, slaves feel pride. With no outlets available to utilize their own gifts and skills, the slaves look to their owners as a way of expressing pride. For example, slaves might take pride in the fairness or wealth of a master. Douglass notes that it is deemed a disgrace to be a poor man's slave.

The slaveholders want their slaves to be content. If slaves express discontent, they can be sold. Slaveholders go to great lengths to rid themselves of dissenting slaves, including spying on them. The slaves, however, lie about their condition out of fear. These lies eventually convince them that their situation is better than that of slaves owned by someone else. In this way, slaves police one another, just as the master polices them.

In this chapter, Douglass, as protagonist, is mostly absent. Instead, he simply provides factual information, and his lack of commentary gives the stories power. The stories are windows into the cruelty and horrific conditions that slaves suffer, and they provide a convincing argument for supporting the abolitionist movement.

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