Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
by Frederick Douglass
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
When Douglass is at his lowest point – when Covey has beaten him into submission and he is, for all intents and purposes, broken – he looks out onto the Chesapeake Bay and is suddenly struck by a vision of white sailing ships. It's one of the most powerful symbols in the book, but it's also one of the most elusive. Why do these ships suddenly strike his fancy as the very embodiment of freedom? Is it because they are white? Do they appear to fly and seem like angels? Are they what eventually drive him to become a dock-worker in Baltimore? Almost everyone who reads Douglass's narrative notices this passage, and we have lots of questions, but not many answers. But maybe that's the point: freedom appears in many different forms and with many different names.