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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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Why is the narrator largely absent as a character in Chapters 3 and 4 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

Chapters 3 and 4 consist of stories about cruel slaveholders. In Chapter 3, Douglass relates some of the tragic instances of dramatic irony on Colonel Lloyd's plantation. Lloyd uses poorly fed slaves to tend a garden with abundant fruit they cannot eat. The slaveowner also goes to great lengths to ensure his horses are well kept by his slaves, while his slaves are whipped at the slightest offense. In Chapter 4, Douglass tells stories of the cruelty of the overseer Gore at the Great House Farm. Gore murders the slave Demby in cold blood and gains only respect. Other instances of whites murdering slaves go unpunished. Douglass is absent from these stories as a character as their horrors speak for themselves. However, his narrative voice gives them power as he relates them in brutal, exacting detail.

In Chapter 3 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is Colonel Lloyd offended by a slave who told the truth and how does this impact the slaves?

Colonel Lloyd speaks with a black man and finds out that he is the slave's owner. He asks the slave how his owner treats him. The man does not know with whom he is speaking and says that Colonel Lloyd does not treat him well. Because of this answer, the man is sold without warning to someone in Georgia. Although he is the slave's cruel master, Colonel Lloyd prefers to hear that his slaves regard him well. He is excessively sensitive about his own self and completely clueless about the condition of his own slaves. Colonel Lloyd wants "yes" men to tell him that everything is good on the plantation. Slaves recognize that any time they are dealing with a white person, particularly a stranger, they should be leery. They are constantly in danger of being mistreated or even killed. This would cause almost anyone to become paranoid and mistrusting.

In Chapter 4 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is the character Austin Gore aptly named?

The word gore refers to bloodshed as a result of violence. Austin Gore is an overseer at the Great House Farm. He is promoted to the position after serving in the same role in one of the outer farms. Douglass says, "He was one of those who could torture the slightest look, word, or gesture ... into impudence." Mr. Gore uses any excuse to punish slaves. Douglass says that "There must be no answering back to him; no explanation was allowed a slave." The mere presence of Mr. Gore causes slaves to tremble. He is savage, cold, and severe, quick to whip slaves and unafraid to kill one to set an example.

In Chapter 4 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what does Demby's murder indicate about the value of the lives of slaves?

A slave's life is at the whim of the owner and the overseer; the law offers no recourse, and white society tolerates and even praises the murder of slaves. Gore says that Demby was becoming unmanageable and his bad behavior was noticed by other slaves. If Gore did not punish him, other slaves might also become unmanageable and ultimately cause an insurrection and enslave whites. This line of reasoning resonates with whites in Talbot County, Maryland, who believe it is necessary to keep blacks in their place. If blacks are allowed to be free, they will take vengeance on whites. Therefore, killing a slave is acceptable and necessary at times. The murders are hushed and the murderers never charged.

Why or why not can Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass be considered strictly an autobiography?

The Narrative is not strictly an autobiography. For example, Douglass is not the protagonist in any of the events that are mentioned in Chapters 2, 3, and 4. Instead, Douglass discusses slavery from an observer's perspective, based on what he heard and saw. In this part of the Narrative, Douglass plays the role of educator and storyteller, describing the day-to-day life of a slave in order to give the reader a sense of slavery from a slave's perspective. His main goal is to encourage abolition and abolitionists. Sharing his life story is a means to that end, but it is not the only one.

In Chapter 5 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why does Douglass say that his move to Baltimore allowed him to escape from slavery?

In Baltimore, Douglass learned to read from the poor children in his neighborhood, giving him dreams of life as a free man. He also learned a trade in the city, and he led an easier life there. On Great White Farm he would have been worked hard, poorly fed, and whipped. In such conditions of servility he could never have received the skills that allowed him to escape and live as a free man. Nor would he have had the aspirations he acquired after he learned how to read, which makes his "wretched condition" as a slave clearer to him.

Throughout the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what views does Douglass express about religion and Christianity?

Throughout the later chapters in the book, Douglass spews venom at religion and those who are religious. Douglass knows that he has created the perception that he does not believe in Christianity and feels a need to add an Appendix to clarify his thoughts on religion. However, in Chapter 5 readers see that Douglass does believe in God and is a religious man when he says God helped him be selected to go to Baltimore. He also attributes his belief that he wouldn't always be a slave to God. He is not against Christianity, but against the hypocrisy of Christian slaveholders.

In Chapter 6 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what does Douglass note after the changes to Sophia Auld?

Sophia Auld is the first white person Douglass meets who is genuinely nice and treats him well. His usual servile actions, which other whites demand and expect of him, make her uncomfortable. When she teaches him the alphabet and how to read simple words, she sees it as how people should treat each other. When her behavior changes, Douglass says it is because of the fatal poison of irresponsible power. He blames slavery as if it were a sickness that affected her. Douglass regards Sophia as a victim of the system, just as he is, and he feels pity for her.

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, how does Hugh Auld underestimate Douglass when he makes a speech about why Douglass should not be taught how to read.

In Chapter 6, Hugh Auld explains why Sophia Auld must stop teaching Douglass. He explains that teaching Douglass will ruin him as a slave and ultimately make him unhappy. He also says that if you give Douglass an inch, he will take it all. Douglass is present while Hugh Auld is explaining all this to Sophia Auld. The message gets through to Sophia. She stops teaching Douglass and reacts harshly when she sees him trying to teach himself. However, the message also gets through to Douglass: he can hear and think as well as the Aulds can. Hugh Auld's tone and passionate speech inspire Douglass to make learning a priority. Douglass calls the speech "invaluable instruction."

In Chapter 6 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, how do Hugh Auld and Douglass enforce their agreement that illiteracy keeps men enslaved?

Douglass is the only slave Hugh Auld owns. He wants Douglass to remain as he is and where he is, and therefore insists that Douglass not be taught to read. Hugh Auld lectures his wife, who had been teaching Douglass, on the evils of educating slaves. After Sophia ceases her reading lessons, Douglass goes to great lengths to continue his education. Later, at a Sunday school, Douglass teaches his fellow slaves how to read. He calls this one of the most fulfilling experiences of his life. Education is Douglass's lifeblood, and he is determined to share it. Through his speaking and writing, Douglass dedicates his life to teaching others.

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