© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass


by Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Theme of Slavery

Slavery is the big theme in Douglass's Narrative, since he wrote his book to convince people that slavery was wrong. You might call the book anti-slavery propaganda, but we don't think Douglass would see anything wrong with that: for him, the important thing was that everything he said about slavery was true. And since he had plenty to say on the subject, the book remains one of most important historical documents from that period, showing us the kinds of lives that American slaves like Douglass lived.

Questions About Slavery

  1. What does it mean to be free?
  2. Is it possible to be free in mind while still legally enslaved? How or how not?
  3. How do slaveholders justify slavery? Do they really believe it is justified?
  4. What does slavery do to the people that own slaves?
  5. How is life different for slaves than for free people?
  6. How do the slave masters prevent slaves from revolting or running away?

Chew on This

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

In his autobiography, Douglass describes two different kinds of freedom: while legal freedom can be given or taken away by the government, personal freedom is something that comes from within.

Douglass argues that slaves aren't the only victims of slavery. Perhaps because he's writing a book for a mostly white audience, he focuses on how slavery corrupts every American who takes part in it.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...