Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Study Guide

Frederick Douglass

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, what is the significance of Douglass saying that the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is the key to enslavement?

Slaveholders give their slaves a week off between Christmas and New Year's Day. They encourage their slaves to get drunk during this week. If a slave drinks to excess and sickens himself, he will come to realize he needs the master to care for him. Douglass says that the holidays are "among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection." Douglass seems to blame the slave for doing as the master wishes. However, Douglass praises those slaves who are "staid, sober, thinking, and industrious" and use the time wisely. These slaves use the holiday time in a way that is best for them. This action is a step toward freedom.

How does Douglass describe the religious masters at St. Michael's in Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

At the Sunday school that Douglass forms at a free black man's house, the slaves are learning how to read. Presumably, one of the texts they are reading is the Bible. Therefore, the slaves are using their time wisely, morally, and according to the dictates of Christianity. Meanwhile, the religious masters at St. Michael's would like the slaves to use their free time for wrestling, boxing, and drinking whisky. In other words, the religious masters encourage the slaves to act immorally and against the word of God. Douglass writes, "They had much rather see us engaged in these degrading sports, than to see us behaving like intellectual, moral, and accountable beings." This example supports Douglass's theme of false religion in the South, as well as his theme of books and education.

Throughout Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is it necessary for Douglass to note his love for his fellow slaves multiple times?

Slaves can be moved without any warning. Families often are broken up. Slaves are pitted against each other and expected to show allegiance only to their masters. Forming relationships with fellow slaves is frowned upon. Given these conditions, it is understandable to think that slaves would care only about themselves. However, that is not the case. Douglass relishes the opportunity to have true friendships with his fellow slaves. They share a common bond and care for one another. His emphasis on his feelings for fellow slaves counters the slaveholders' perception that the slaves are somehow less than human. Slaves are feeling people and seek bonds with others, just as white people do.

In Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, was Freeland's mother right in blaming Douglass when Douglass and others are caught planning to escape?

Douglass has been determined to escape ever since his fight with Mr. Covey. Because of his great affection for his fellow slaves, the idea to escape as a group makes sense. Douglass tells readers that he is the one who suggests the escape to Henry, John, and then the others. They are "ready to hear, and ready to act when a feasible plan should be proposed." He then talks to them about making a "noble effort." While he does not take credit for "the plan we finally concluded upon," he is certainly the one who planted the seed. In addition, Douglass is both a thinking man and a bold one. His accused fellow runaways attend the Sunday school where he is the teacher. Because Douglass is the leader at school, it is reasonable to assume that he is the leader of the group.

How does it impact Douglass when the white carpenters unite against the black carpenters in Chapter 10 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

For a time, white carpenters work side by side with free black carpenters. However, the white carpenters eventually join together and refuse to work if the black carpenters are not let go. Mr. Gardner succumbs to the pressure and fires the black men. The apprentices learn a lesson from this and beat Douglass, the only black apprentice. When Hugh Auld wants justice for Douglass, it is denied. A white witness is needed to corroborate Douglass's story. However, no one will come forward. Once again, the white men stick together, and the black men are left to suffer. The lesson is clear: there is power in numbers and unity.

Why does Douglass note that whenever his conditions improve, his desire to be free increases in Chapter 10 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

Douglass is an educated man and is eager to continue learning. He recognizes that to reach his potential, he must gain his freedom. This thought is always on his mind. However, when he is suffering under especially harsh conditions, such as hunger and his time with Mr. Covey, his first concern is survival. Getting through the day requires all of Douglass's strength and mental faculties. When Douglas finds himself in less stressful situations, he has the ability to think about things other than mere survival. During these times, his thoughts inevitably return to freedom.

In Chapter 11 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, does it weaken the story's power when Douglass does not share the details of his escape?

The story of Douglass's life as a slave makes up the first part of the book. How Douglass escaped slavery is not as important as why he felt the need to escape and what experiences gave him the strength and courage to do so. In fact, Douglass hides the details because he does not want to implicate those who helped him. He doesn't even believe people should speak openly of the Underground Railroad. The omission of Douglass's journey to freedom does not weaken the Narrative. Its power is in the clarity and specificity of his details and his strengths as a storyteller, including his ability to pair examples that show the hypocrisy of slave owners. The need for secrecy about his escape further strengthens the Narrative's power. Douglass sees that his escape can be a lesson for other slaves to learn from and follow.

In reference to Chapter 11 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why didn't Douglass mention Anna earlier, before he married her?

Douglass's marriage to Anna seems to come out of the blue. Prior to their marriage, she is not mentioned once. There are a number of reasons why Douglass might have chosen not to mention Anna. Throughout the story, Douglass makes the point that slaves find it challenging to form personal relationships with one another. When Douglass mentions other slaves, they are often faceless; readers know only their names. Mentioning his relationship with Anna might have detracted from the greater focus of the story, which is educating readers about slavery. Also, sharing details about Anna might have necessitated mentioning other people's names. Just as Douglass refuses to relate the specifics of his escape, he might be protecting the identity of others who helped the couple.

In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Chapter 11, why is it significant that Douglass changes his last name?

Douglass has already changed his name several times for safety before he adopts the name by which he will come to be known. The last name that Douglass retains is given to him in New Bedford by Mr. Johnson, who has been reading a story with a character named Douglass in it. Before explaining how he came to have his last name, Douglass says that he and Anna have, at this point in the narrative, begun "to prepare ourselves for the duties and responsibilities of a life of freedom." Douglass and Anna are beginning a new life. He is a free man, a married man, and a man of the North. The new name is part of this new beginning and symbolizes his freedom.

In Chapter 11 of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, why is Douglass surprised at the conditions in New Bedford?

Douglass is surprised at the wealth he sees in New Bedford. He comments on the warehouses, ships in the harbor, churches, gardens, dwellings, and more. He mentions that this wealth extends to black people as well. Douglass had been under the impression that the North was poorer than the South. Because the North did not have slaves, he had thought it must lack wealth. Because slaveholders in the South were wealthy—at least to some degree—Douglass equated slaves with wealth. Douglass now recognizes that the South's claim that it needs slaves to support itself is a flawed argument.

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