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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Study Guide

Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 6 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what point is Douglass making when says the Hamiltons are particularly cruel to their slaves?

Thomas Hamilton is a neighbor of the Aulds in Baltimore. He and his wife have two slaves. Douglass says they are the most "mangled and emaciated creatures" he has ever seen. Just prior to mentioning these two slaves, Douglass says that city slaves are better off than plantation slaves. City slaves retain some sense of decency because city slaveholders care about the opinions of their non-slaveholding neighbors. The Hamiltons, however, do not care. Their sense of depravity and cruelty get the better of them, and they act without regard to social mores. Douglass's point is that someone who will commit evil in the light of day is truly evil.

In Chapter 7 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what two factors enable the white boys to help him to learn?

First, Douglass approaches fellow children, thinking that children are generally more accepting of differences and might be more disposed to help him. He understands that children do not see social differences in skin color unless taught to. In addition, these children have seen free black people, who are not an uncommon sight in Baltimore. This may have delayed their indoctrination in the belief that black people are inferior. Second, the children are being practical. Douglass receives bread at the Aulds' home, and he shares it with the children. Some are hungry and happy to trade lessons for food, regardless of their benefactor's skin color.

In Chapter 7 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why does reading The Columbian Orator bring Douglass great frustration and disappointment?

The Columbian Orator is a collection of political essays, poems, and dialogues. One of the dialogues is a debate over slavery between a master and a slave. According to Douglass, the book's "denunciation of slavery, and ... powerful vindication of human rights" inspires him. It is as if the book's ideas open up his mind to thoughts he has had before but was unable to articulate. The door into Douglass's mind has been opened. He can grow and learn more. However, his body is still trapped. His servitude is even more unbearable, and he longs to be free in body as well as mind.

In Chapter 7 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is the suggestion of two Irishmen important, and why does Douglass ignore it?

Upon finding out that Douglass is a slave for life, two Irishmen encourage him to run away to the North. Douglass ignores the men because he isn't sure he can trust them. However, from that point on he is determined to escape. This is the first time Douglass has ever had the idea to run away. Based on all he has seen and the frustration he feels, readers might think that Douglass has been plotting to escape for years. He has said that, since childhood, he's believed he would one day be free. Yet, up to this point, the idea of running away has not occurred to him. Once Douglass has the idea in mind, he is determined to achieve it.

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Chapter 8, why does Douglass discuss his two trips back to the plantation out of chronological order?

The primary purpose of Douglas's Narrative is to provide readers with factual and dramatic information about slavery so that they can develop an understanding of what life is like for the slaves. With this understanding, Douglass hopes that readers will become more sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. To present this information in chronological order, Douglass would have had to interrupt the story of how he learned to read and write. Along with the move to Baltimore, this is the biggest influence on his decision to escape slavery, and so Douglass wanted to present it as a complete story. Even though this organization interrupts the story's chronology, it gives the reader a sense of how powerful the act of learning to read was to Douglass. Story order is secondary to theme.

In Chapter 8 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is the dividing of slaves excruciating for Douglass and the others?

The division is excruciating for three reasons. First, the slaves have no voice in it. Just as they have been forced to be valued alongside horses, sheep, and swine, they must stand silently as Andrew and Lucretia Auld decide their fates. Second, if they are sent away, they will be severed from all their ties to friends and family. Douglass writes, "A single word from the white men was enough to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings." Finally, Andrew is known to be a cruel drunk. For Douglass, however, the division is even more difficult because he has known some kind treatment. He is fortunate to be given to Lucretia, as it means he will return to Baltimore.

In Chapter 8 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what is different about Douglass's writing when he explains what happened to his grandmother?

There are two main differences in how Douglass writes about his grandmother as compared with his writing in the rest of the book. When discussing his grandmother, Douglass expresses a passion that he rarely shows elsewhere. Douglass says her treatment by cruel masters "fills me with unutterable loathing of slaveholders." Another difference is that Douglass, when describing his grandmother, appears as a writer who is removed from the situation, as opposed to being the main character who is telling the story. As the "writer," he imagines his grandmother's situation, 15 years after the events took place. Even at that distance, his anger is passionate and resonant.

At the beginning of Chapter 9 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is it significant that Douglass is now able to give accurate dates?

At the beginning of Chapter 9, Douglass says that he has "now reached a period of my life when I can give dates." Being able to give accurate dates means Douglass is able to mark time. Being able to track time allows him to measure growth, development, and more. With these skills, Douglass is no longer aimless and drifting through his life. Able to mark time, he can now see how each day has a clear distinction and can begin to think of long-term plans. Also, being able to give accurate dates is another element that helps outsiders check on the validity of the book. Dates and times are facts than can be proven.

In Chapter 9 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, how does Douglass describe the problem of poorly fed slaves?

Douglass writes, "Not to give a slave enough to eat, is regarded as the most aggravated development of meanness even among slaveholders." Douglass notes that going hungry is painful, and dying of hunger is an especially difficult death. Feeding a slave is the one essential responsibility of slaveholders. There is no way slaves can provide food for themselves without the assistance of the slaveholder. Slaves who are kept hungry will do whatever they can to feed themselves. Desperate slaves sometimes bring harm to themselves and those around them. Also, slaves must be fed to keep up their strength and ability to do work. To expect a poorly fed slave to be a good worker is unreasonable.

In Chapter 9 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what does Douglass mean when he describes Thomas Auld as a "a slaveholder without the ability to hold slaves"?

Thomas Auld did not grow up with slaves. He became a slaveholder through marriage. Douglass says that "adopted slaveholders are the worst." Thomas Auld fits this mold. He is desperate to have the slaves respect him but is unsure how to make that happen. His treatment of the slaves is inconsistent, so they don't know what to expect of him. They realize that he does not know what he is doing and hold him in contempt. A vicious circle forms, in which the slaves' lack of respect causes Thomas Auld to want it more, and so his treatment of the slaves worsens.

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