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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

by Frederick Douglass

Slavery Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #10

I could see no reason why I should, at the end of each week, pour the reward of my toil into the purse of my master. When I carried to him my weekly wages, he would, after counting the money, look me in the face with a robber-like fierceness, and ask, "Is this all?" He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent. He would, however, when I made him six dollars, sometimes give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to the whole. The fact that he gave me any part of my wages was proof, to my mind, that he believed me entitled to the whole of them. (11.3)

When his master takes away the wages Douglass earns, he sometimes gives him a small part of it back. But Douglass is far from grateful; in fact, this makes him even more sure that he deserves to have all of it back. Douglass also wants to show us the impossibility of being a good slave owner: small favors only make the larger injustices sting even more.

Quote #11

I was somewhat unmanageable when I first went there, but a few months of this discipline tamed me. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. 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! (10.5)

By using words like "tamed," Douglass shows us that being "broken" doesn't simply involve physical violence: Covey transforms Douglass from a human into an animal by breaking his spirit. All of the defining characteristics of a human being get pounded out of Douglass by force until he starts to act as mindlessly and thoughtlessly as a beast in the fields.

Quote #12

An American sailor, who was cast away on the shore of Africa, where he was kept in slavery for three years, was, at the expiration of that period, found to be imbruted and stultified--he had lost all reasoning power; and having forgotten his native language, could only utter some savage gibberish between Arabic and English, which nobody could understand, and which even he himself found difficulty in pronouncing. So much for the humanizing influence of THE DOMESTIC INSTITUTION! (preface.7)

Defenders of slavery liked to claim that Africans brought to America were better off, that life in Africa was primitive and savage. In the preface, William Lloyd Garrison tells a story that seems to reflect this kind of thinking, but with a twist. He tells about a white sailor who was enslaved in Africa and who, as a result, lost his ability to speak and became like an animal. Garrison is suggesting that the place or race don't matter; it's the condition of slavery that takes away a person's humanity.

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