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Frederick Douglass

Douglass describes knowledge as “valuable bread” (p. 83) and the Liberator, an anti-slavery paper, as his “meat and drink” (p. 151). How does literacy sustain him?

Why does Douglass believe “Slavery proved as injurious to [his master’s wife] as it did to [him]” (p. 81)?

Think about Douglass’s private speech to the ships in Chapter X. Why does Douglass recreate this speech in his Narrative? What do the ships represent? Why is this moment important within the Narrative?

Discuss the prejudice that existed among slaves from different plantations. Examine the irony of this prejudice.

Why does Frederick include the anecdotes about the two religious slave holders Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Weeden? What point is he attempting to make?


  1. Siheed Hargrove

    1. Frederick Douglass literacy helps him escape slavery and he decided to learn and read at any cost. Frederick believed that being able to read , write and being smart made a slave unmanageable. He thought being able to do all of those things would make him truly free and would make him to understand what slavery truly means.

    • Siheed Hargrove

      2. Frederick Douglass was born from a slave master so therefore his mother was his masters wife. He was separated from his mother at a young age like most of the slaves back then. His mother was also teaching him how to read and say that alphabet and he said she “at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting [him] up in mental darkness”.

    • Cameron Verrier

      In Douglass’s life, literacy plays an important roll because him learning how to read can help him with many of his fears and it can help accomplish his goals. Learning how to read gives him an advantage because seeing words that others aren’t able to read, gives him an idea as to what to do or what to not do. Being able to comprehend words and sentences can make his escape plans easier. Not many slaves were educated but those who could read were considered educated just because of that simple fact.

    • Jackson Stevens

      2. Douglass believes this because of Mrs. Hugh’s gradual change in behavior and treatment. When she first met Douglass, she treated him with great respect and took care of his basic needs. Shortly after, Mrs. Hugh feels pressured to meet her husband’s requests; Mr. Hugh forbade her from educating and tending to Frederick. With a heavy heart, Douglass watched Mrs. Hugh turn on him completely, as she became filled with rage and impatience. I believe he includes this in the narrative to show the reader the additional negative effects of slavery.

  2. Siheed Hargrove

    3. Douglass recreates this speech in his narrative because to him the ships in the Chesapeake symbolize freedom of movement and control over one’s destiny.

  3. Siheed Hargrove

    4. Frederick Douglas said in his narrative¨imbibe prejudices quite common to others. They think their own masters better than that of others¨. Many under the influence of this prejudice, think their own masters are better than the masters of other slaves which was sometimes true. The slaves would often fight each other because they think they have the greatest slave master ; they thought that the greatness of their master would contribute to their own worth.

  4. Amber Reynolds

    1). In chapter 7 of the novel of Frederick Douglass, Frederick describes knowledge as
    “valuable bread” and later in his anti slavery paper “the Liberator” he mentions knowledge being like “meat and drink”. Each of these similes has ways to describe Frederick’s need for knowledge. Bread, meats, and a drink was a simple meal back in those days to quench thirst and fill a stomach up and were necessities to survive. To Frederick Douglas knowledge was a necessity to escape a lifetime of slavery. Being taught the alphabet by his mistress fueled his longing to read and write and led him to help the anti slavery cause. Literacy sustains Frederick Douglass by providing him the beginning of a possible new life, considering that the majority of slaves were illiterate. “This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge”(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). In my opinion Frederick was saying that the bread he used to provide those “poor white children” now lets him see that knowledge is just as valuable as bread to the poor.

  5. Amber Reynolds

    2). Chapter 7 marks the beginning of Frederick’s literary journey. His mistress taught him the alphabet, but then she changed very quickly under influence of her husband. “My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.”(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). When his mistress was like this is when she taught Frederick but as she changed her ways to become like most other malicious slave holders Frederick made an observation. “and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me.”(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). I believe what Frederick is trying to say here is that slavery changes a slave, as in how people see them. Many people in those days saw slaves as animals, to aid humans. “Injurious” means likely to cause harm and malicious. Frederick is explaining that just as slavery causes harm to the slaves, it harms the character of the masters of the slaves. Later in the narrative Frederick describes how he sees his mistress’s heart harden. “Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.”(Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass). The “its” in this quote is slavery, this is why Frederick believes that slavery harms everyone and that it is a malicious entity.

  6. Amber Reynolds

    3). Frederick Douglass recreates his speech to the ships in his narrative to engage the reader as if they are an audience for his thoughts in which he created as a speech. The sail boats at Chesapeake Bay to Frederick represents freedom, in which he at times resents the boats. “Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition.”(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). Frederick mentions that the boats are “delightful to freemen” because they can come and go on those sail boats whenever they please. Frederick on the other hand is not a free man so therefore cannot go on those boats and sail away, which is why they represent freedom. I feel as though the speech is such an important moment in the narrative because Frederick wrote the speech himself. Him being a slave, who isn’t supposed to know how to read or write and yet he writes a very powerful speech and conveys emotion from his readers.

  7. Amber Reynolds

    4). Some slaves found their worth in their masters. Depending on what plantation you worked on you had different jobs and jobs varied, some were better than others. Frederick noticed how city slaves were more like “freemen” and plantation slaves were treated with cruelty and often harsher punishments and jobs. All depending on who you’re master was and where they lived would most likely determine you’re status as a slave. It’s ironic how some slaves would judge other slaves based on where they lived or who their master was because their all slaves and yet they judge each other; as if they don’t get judged by most everyone else. I think it’s awful that even in you’re own race or the same circumstances people will still be prejudice against one another.

    • Siheed Hargrove

      Religion in the South was used as a cover for the crimes and horrible treatment done against slaves. Douglas says that they use religion to justify owning slaves and Douglass has found religious slaveholders to be the most cowardly and cruel. Mr. Weeden and Mr. Hopkins were two ministers who live near Mr. Freeland and regularly whip their slaves for no reason other than to assert their own authority. Douglass thinks Freeland is a more respectable slaveholder because he does not use religion to engineer a moral justification for his ownership.

    • admin

      Amber, I do believe that out of the entire class, your answers are the most complete and thoughtful – thank you.

  8. Amber Reynolds

    5). In chapter 10 of the narrative Frederick Douglass includes an anecdote about two religious slave holders in the south named Mr. Weeden and Mr. Hopkins. He notes that they were ministers of a Christian church in the south. “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”(Narrative of Frederick Douglass). Frederick saw this cruel treatment of religious slave holders first hand. I believe he was revealing the wronged nature of how many people in the south of this time would hide behind their religion. The slaveholders would use the excuse of when a slave acted out that a “devil” was in the slave and needed to be whipped out. These anecdotes seem random and yet go along with the whole narrative about just how much slavery manipulated and changed people.

  9. Jackson Stevens

    1. Douglass’ literacy helps sustain him by providing a way to express his thoughts comfortably. He uses his unique literary style effectively throughout the narrative, as seen in the examples above. On page 83, Douglass compares his knowledge to “valuable bread” by implying that knowledge is to the mind as bread is to the body. Later on page 151, Douglass metaphorically claims that the Liberator is his “meat and drink”. He uses this figurative language to symbolize his attraction toward the paper and its views.

  10. Jackson Stevens

    3. Douglass recreates this speech in his narrative to express his utter frustration with the concept of slavery & freedom at that moment in time. The ships at Chesapeake Bay represent the idea of freedom, which is why Douglass speaks so emotionally and sharply toward them; he is angry because these sails earned “freedom” by doing absolutely nothing, while he cannot experience that despite lifelong suffering. The general points Douglass covers in the speech are: slavery is awful, those sailing ships are free, he wants to be free too, and the looming question… “what can I do to become free?” This moment is so important to the narrative because it is a prime example of naturalism; the harsh reality of a slave’s life is made known to the reader instead of being hidden.

    • Jackson Stevens

      4. Slaves from different plantations would often bicker about whose masters were more superior. We can infer that the slaves found a sense of identity and purpose through their respective masters; they somehow felt that the greatness of their masters correlated to self-worth. This is obviously ironic because of how poorly slavemasters treated their slaves during this era.

  11. Jackson Stevens

    5. Frederick includes the anecdotes about the two religious leaders, Hopkins and Weeden, to show that they feel the need to prove every one of their beliefs with slavery. I think he is attempting to say that religious masters are the worst, most ruthless masters because of their desire to prove their beliefs. Douglass was not exposed to the positive aspects of religion growing up, as he was forbidden to read, write, learn, etc. during slavery.

  12. Cameron Verrier

    3. The slave owners wives were loyal to the slave owners in their relationships but they could not count on their husband to be loyal. The slave owners were always out doing whatever they wanted and the female could not do anything about it. The slave owners would have children with the slaves and the wives couldn’t do anything about it because they have waymore authority then the female.

  13. Cameron Verrier

    4. The religious slaveholders were the worst because they always think just because they are religious, they can get away with more things and people won’t think they do wrong. Due to the fact that they believe in religious theories, they expect everyone to see them as innocent even if they are doing what is against their religion. Even high class religious people should have been convicted for such horrid crimes.

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