Study Guide

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Chapter 9

By Frederick Douglass

Chapter 9

  • For the first time in the book, Douglass can give dates for events as they happen. He can therefore tell us that he moved to Master Thomas's plantation in March 1832.
  • Master Thomas is not a good man, as Douglass quickly finds out at meal times. His family only survives by begging and occasionally stealing just enough food to survive.
  • Master Thomas, in fact, is an unusually bad slave owner. Douglass thinks it might be because he wasn't born a slaveholder. Perhaps because he was born a poor man, he's even stingier than your average master.
  • The real problem with Master Thomas is his inconsistency. Sometimes he's strict and sometimes he isn't. The slaves never know what to expect from him.
  • We learn about two different kinds of Christianity: when Master Thomas gets religion, it only convinces him that anything he does must be praiseworthy. Douglass says he might even be crueler afterwards. On the other hand, some churchgoers are genuinely good. Douglass tells us about a preacher who convinces slave owners to emancipate their slaves. Our guess is that there weren't many of these.
  • Douglass is always walking a fine line when it comes to religion. All of his friends in the abolitionist movement were devoted Christians, so he's very careful every time he seems to be bashing religion. He even writes a special appendix to remind us that he isn't against religion, just religious hypocrisy.
  • And Master Thomas is definitely a religious hypocrite. He often beats his slaves while reciting scriptural verses as his justification. He is particularly cruel to slaves who aren't able to work. A slave child named Henny was crippled by an accident and was never able to do as much work as the others, so Thomas keeps trying to give her away. When no one will take her, he simply puts her out, probably to starve.
  • Douglass and Thomas quickly discover that they have one thing in common: they can't stand each other. Thomas thinks Douglass has been spoiled and made uppity by city living. Douglass pretty much agrees with this.
  • Douglass has learned that if he lets Master Thomas's horse escape, it always runs to the same place, Thomas's father-in-law's farm. He has also noticed that when he goes after the horse, Thomas's father-in-law will always give him something to eat. So let's just say that Thomas's horse has a way of running off whenever Douglass is particularly hungry.
  • Unfortunately, Douglass plays this trick one too many times, and Master Thomas catches on. He decides to rent out Douglass for a year, to be "broken" by a poor white farmer named Mr. Covey.
  • Douglass tries to look on the bright side: at least leaving Thomas's farm means he will get enough to eat.