Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Study Guide

Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Describe the hypocrisy in Thomas Auld's spiritual growth in Chapter 9 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Thomas Auld experiences a religious awakening. His house becomes one of prayer, and he regularly hosts preachers. He is held in higher esteem and respected by the community. However, Thomas Auld's spiritual growth is false. Douglass says, "He found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty." This is the case when it comes to his treatment of Henny, a slave rendered physically useless by a childhood accident. The reason Thomas Auld beats her is because the accident left Henny as an expense rather than an asset. He uses scripture to justify these beatings, saying, "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." Henny is punished because she is unable to perform her master's will. Thomas Auld quotes scripture when it suits his needs. Yet he ignores those parts of scripture about kindness and caring for the less fortunate. He uses religion to further his own ego and to justify his cruelty.

In Chapter 9 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, how do Thomas Auld and Mr. Covey benefit from the false perceptions people have about them?

Mr. Covey is a poor man who is able to rent slaves cheaply because of his reputation as a slave breaker. Slaveholders who own slaves they deem unmanageable sometimes send these slaves to Mr. Covey, who beats and demeans them until they become manageable, at which point he returns them to their owners. Thomas Auld and Mr. Covey both profit from this arrangement. It is tragic that they are rewarded by their community for "breaking" human beings. Thomas Auld attains an even greater place in society after people come to believe that he has gone through a religious transformation. His home becomes a meeting place for the clergy and prayer groups. Thomas Auld craves respect but does not get it from his slaves. He does, however, gain respect from the community.

What is the purpose of the opening scene in Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and how does it impact Douglass?

Chapter 10 opens with an extremely long paragraph in which Douglass discusses his first experience as a farmhand, his first assignment from Mr. Covey, and his first whipping from Mr. Covey. Douglass writes, "Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my little finger." Douglass has been put on notice. Mr. Covey is serious, will strike at a moment's notice, expects complete compliance, and will not accept excuses. Mr. Covey's forceful, combative way increases the pressure on Douglass. This will be a hard year with no comfort. Douglass uses this long opening scene to help the reader fully understand his perilous situation.

In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Chapter 10, how does Mr. Covey's hard work impact the slaves?

Mr. Covey's only goal is to get the slaves to work harder. His sudden, snakelike appearances in the fields surprises the slaves. They work hard even when he is not there for fear he will pop up, find them not working, and whip them for their laziness. Mr. Covey prods the slaves to work longer hours, and his presence, often with a whip, serves as a motivational factor. While Mr. Covey does work, the slaves also know that he sleeps in the afternoon in order to force the slaves to work in the evening. The slaves know who the real workers are.

In Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, how does Douglass's education contribute to his being broken by Mr. Covey?

In Chapter 6, Hugh Auld says that being educated will ultimately make Douglass "discontented and unhappy." According to Douglass, six months after coming to Mr. Covey, the notorious slave breaker has succeeded. Douglass is broken from the long hours, hard work, and regular whippings. When Douglass describes his condition at this point, he seems most upset that his desire to learn and grow have been taken from him. He says, "I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!"

In Chapter 10 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what do the white sails and ships symbolize for Douglass?

Watching the ships reminds Douglass of his desire to be free. It is a Sunday, which is the only time that Douglass and the slaves have a break. Douglass spends his day lying under a tree on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. He comments on the white sails and ships passing. He speaks to the ships and notes they are free from their moorings and move happily about while he is in chains and enslaved. The ships' ability to move about and go as they please symbolizes freedom. The ships are going in every which direction, including North, which is where Douglass must go if he hopes to be free.

In Chapter 10 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what is Thomas Auld's point of view when Douglass asks his master not to return him to Mr. Covey?

Douglass comes to Thomas Auld after being beaten yet again by Mr. Covey. This occurs after Douglass faints from exhaustion and excessive heat. Douglass appeals to Thomas Auld's economic sense, asking to be able to return to him and serve him again. Thomas Auld argues he will be out a year's worth of wages if he agrees, and therefore, he does not. When Douglass mentions that Mr. Covey will kill him, Thomas Auld ridicules the idea. He insists that Mr. Covey is a good man and that Douglass is in no danger. One look at Douglass, who is terribly bloodied, should be enough to see that this is not true. Thomas Auld is not persuaded by Douglass's argument. He is beholden to his community and their opinions. Taking the side of a slave and backing out of a commitment would result in ridicule, which Thomas Auld is not willing to accept.

In Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what is the effect of the root Douglass accepts from Sandy?

Douglass accepts the root from Sandy, even though he does not believe it will protect him against being whipped again. Upon first meeting Mr. Covey after taking the root, Douglass expects trouble. However, Mr. Covey leaves him in peace, and Douglass begins to wonder about the root. The next day Mr. Covey attacks Douglass, but the slave fights back. Douglass is determined to stand up and not be whipped by Mr. Covey. Douglass never explains why he chose this time to fight back. The reader is left to speculate what inspired this action of Douglass's. It is possible that Sandy's words and the root inspired Douglass. The root and its alleged charms enable Douglass to gather the courage to stand up to Mr. Covey.

In Chapter 10 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why does Mr. Covey claim victory in the fight with Douglass?

Mr. Covey claims victory because his reputation is at stake. If word gets out that a slave not only fought back but won, his supply of cheap labor would end. Mr. Covey is a poor man and needs cheap labor to get ahead in the world. Further, Mr. Covey must impress the other slaves. If Douglass's action were to inspire other slaves to oppose him, he would have a full-scale revolt on his hands. Readers should recall the example in Chapter 4 of Austin Gore, who kills the slave Demby because he believes Demby is becoming a bad example. If Mr. Covey were to kill Douglass, he would lose the money he received from Thomas Auld. Thus, Mr. Covey's reputation and his wallet force him to make a calculated decision.

How is the fight with Mr. Covey in Chapter 10 the climax of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

The climax of a narrative is the point of greatest dramatic tension or excitement. After the fight with Mr. Covey, Douglass is revived. He regains his confidence and his spirit and lets it be known that if someone expects to whip him, they "must also succeed in killing" him. This determination and resolution come along with the burning desire to be free. While Douglass remains a slave for a few more years, a part of him has already broken free. Until this point, the book has been about Douglass's life as a slave, but the rest of the book will be about Douglass making his way to freedom.

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