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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

by Frederick Douglass

Family Theme

Frederick Douglass doesn't start out with much of a family. His father is probably his white master, or some other white rapist. He barely knows his mother: he only remembers meeting her a handful of times before she died, and he wasn't even allowed to go to her funeral. So when he talks about family, it's as something that slavery prevented him from ever having. Almost the only time he even mentions his cousins and grandmother, for example, is when he's telling the story about how his grandmother watched all her children and grandchildren get sold away from her, never to be seen again. And though he doesn't say much about his own marriage, he can only get married (and start his own family) after he escapes to freedom.

Questions About Family

  1. What is a family? Is a slave part of a slave owner's family?
  2. Why is Douglass so happy to leave his family behind in Chapter 5 when his grandmother is so devastated to have her family taken away in Chapter 8?
  3. Is it possible for a slave to have a family at all?
  4. Why does Douglass tell us so little about his wife?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

One of the greatest tragedies of slavery is that the slave has no family, because this loss can never be fixed. Even after Douglass becomes free, he still has no mother or father.

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