Study Guide

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Chapter 4

By Frederick Douglass

Chapter 4

  • Mr. Hopkins doesn't work out as overseer, so Colonel Lloyd replaces him with a Mr. Gore. (Hmm, Mr. Severe, Mr. Gore – we're detecting a pattern here.)
  • Being an overseer is a line of work that demands a sadistic personality. Mr. Hopkins wasn't sadistic enough, but Mr. Gore excels at his job.
  • When it comes to slaves, the rules are very simple: the slave is always wrong. Mr. Gore really, really believes in this rule, and the only way to avoid being convicted of a crime and punished for it is to not be accused in the first place.
  • Again, and we can't stress this enough, Mr. Gore is really good at his job. For example, Douglass tells the story of a slave named Demby who tried to escape from a beating Mr. Gore was giving him by jumping into a stream and refusing to come out. Mr. Gore warns Demby that he will shoot him if he doesn't come out of the water.
  • Demby doesn't come out of the water.
  • Mr. Gore shoots him.
  • Douglass notes that Mr. Gore wasn't punished for the murder in any way, not even for having destroyed valuable "property."
  • The lesson, it turns out, is that an overseer can be fired for not being cruel enough, but an occasional murder is just part of the job.
  • More than occasional, in fact; Douglass recounts three more times when an overseer murders a slave – for reasons that range from completely unjustified to completely unnecessary – to make another very simple point: the life of a slave can come to an end at any time, for no reason at all.