42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2002
I often believe it is easy to criticize nineteenth century Americans for not stepping up to the plate regarding the issue of slavery and race in America. Jefferson may well have agonized over the issue he called the "death knell of the nation" and which he labeled a "neccessary evil." Certainly he benefitted by the ownership of nearly 300 slaves, but he grew up in a world in which slavery was the norm. It takes a revoutionary and remarkable man to truly stand against the only world he knows and move to create a different world, so I usually defend Jefferson and his political vision which clearly transcended that world.
Reading Frederick Douglass, however, makes me wonder how anyone with firsthand knowledge of the institution could not see the obvious pain and cruelty which existed right in front of his or her eyes. Douglass's narrative, and particularly his descriptions of the slave trade in Baltimore and the obvious place of the whip (whether used or not) as the principal vehicle of social control argues most eloquently that though the slave system may have been a social norm, the blinders had to be unbelievably thick not to see the horrors that the institution wrought. The relationship of slave and master perpetuated a most un-American (at least in terms of our professed values--cf. Douglass's later antislavery orations) tyranny and oppression. Douglass's narrative testifies that our ancestors could have seen much more and done much more and that 600,000 lives and a subsequent 120 years of racial schism and pain was too much a price to bear for the peculiar institution.
113 of 125 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2006
Frederick Douglass's auto biography is about him as a kid and partially as an adult. I think it is a good book because it describes the harshness of slavery. I also think it is an interesting way to be informed.
It is an excellent source of information. It has a vivid description of the work fields and how it feels to see a family member being ruthlessly whipped. It also gives you a feeling you are talking to Frederick himself. It suddenly makes you aware of the relationship between you and him. Everybody probably has a relation with him ranging from skin tones to hardship. We all have at least one if not 2or3 similarities.
I think that this book is not for children younger than 9 because it has intense parts about naughty haywire masters. It is for the type of person who likes history . When you are reading this book, you may understand why people started the civil war. I think it made people start the civil war because they read this book and got very angry at slavery. Also I think it made the masters mad. That may have also started the civil war
Nathaniel age 9
84 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2002
This fiery autobiography, written as anti-slavery propaganda, told of his struggle to gain freedom, identified his "owner", and became a 19th century national bestseller. Long before Uncle Tom's Cabin opened the eyes of sentimental Northerners to the evils of slavery, Douglass' chronicle inspired the small abolitionist movement and challenged the conscience of the United States to live up to the heroic ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence... "all men are created equal."
The publication of this masterpiece also forced Douglass into exile in England for two years to avoid capture by slave traders. British supporters eventually "purchased" Douglass allowing this great American to return to the United States and live in freedom.
While the battle against slavery was won almost 150 years ago, this autobiography's remains a very powerful tool against racism, ignorance, and historical amnesia. Douglass links his quest for literacy with his need to be treated as a man - and become a free man. This book should be required reading, for all American schoolchildren, in the middle school and excerpts should be constantly used in high school and college courses. Adult literacy centers should find this story a powerful inspiration too.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2001
Anyone who wishes to be considered at all educated in the history of the United States MUST read this book. The period of this history is absolutely critical to an understanding of the country both before and after that time, as well, obviously, as during that time. And without reading the account of this great American of his experiences, one can not, truly, understand that time period.
Granted, there will be those who will argue, "But why should we need to read an anti-slavery tract; there's no one alive now who would argue in favor of slavery, or deny that it was a great evil. To read a book whose primary purpose was to convince people of what is now considered obvious is pointless." But the same argument could be used to apply to reading a biography of George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson. Most of the issues that were important to them are currently decided, and decided in their favor. Yet it is still considered neccessary for an educated American to have at least a passing idea of the history of their lives.
The same is true of Frederick Douglass. The man risked his life for freedom, just as surely as did Patrick Henry, or any of the founding fathers, and his history is just as much a part of this country as theirs is; further, it is worth seeing just how literate a man born in slavery, not only self-taught, but self-taught on the sly, against every effort of his oppressors to stifle his education, can be. His facility for language is frankly better than 90% of modern Americans of any color, in spite of virtually universal education. He was a great man, and deserves to be recognized as such.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death." Frederic Douglass
Frederic Douglass tells us the REAL story about slavery in early America. From the first page to the last, I was totally transfixed. There are so many things to admire about this great American. On top of being brilliant and brave and benevolent and broad-minded, etc... what I truly admire about this amazing soul was the fact that he is able to tell us his story sans bitterness. For let me tell you, if the majority of us had to endure one iota of what this man went through... Let's just say that those saccharine sweet saga's like "Gone with the Wind" left a few pertinent things out!
This is one hell of a powerful story! The brutalities of slavery will disgust you, but to see this beautiful soul rise above it all is something special. He is the most important figure in nineteenth-century black American literature and a man that merits more attention than he gets. This is a magnificient achievement, an important work of art.
Very highly recommended!
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2004
I read this book as part of a summer assignment entering into the 11th grade in addition to "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" by Harriet Jacobs. Both are great pieces of African-American historical literature and well worth the read. I couldn't read this book all in one sitting, due to the need to fight the urge to throw up. He detailed descriptions of physical, psycological, and emotional abuse are enough to sicken any one and make you disgusted with the human race.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2007
I am a student at Parkview High School. I read the book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This is an autobiography by Frederick Douglass who acts as both the narrator and the protagonist. He begins the book with his birth and shows how he progresses from an uneducated, oppressed slave to a worldly and articulate political commentator.
Douglass was born sometime between 1817 and 1818. His mother was Harriet Bailey, and his father was thought to be his master, Captain Anthony. Life on this plantation was not as hard as that of most of the other slaves. Being a child, he served in the household instead of in the fields. At the age of seven, he was given to Captain Anthony's son'in'law's brother, Hugh Auld, who lived in Baltimore. Douglass remarked on how kind his Mistress, Sophia Auld, was to him at first since she had not yet been corrupted by slavery. She actually started teaching him how to read until her husband forbade her, saying that education made slaves unmanageable. Thus two major themes of the book were introduced, ignorance as a tool of slavery and knowledge as a path to freedom. As Douglass continued learning, he became conscious of the evils of slavery and of the existence of the abolitionist movement. He resolved to escape to the North eventually.
After the deaths of Captain Anthony and his remaining heirs, Douglass was taken back to serve Thomas Auld, Captain Anthony's son'in'law. He was a mean man made harsher by his false religious piety. Auld considered Douglass unmanageable, so he rented him for one year to Edward Covey, a man known for "breaking" slaves. Covey managed, in the first six months, to work and whip all the spirit out of Douglass. The turning point came when Douglass resolved to fight back against Covey, after which Covey never touched Douglass again. Douglass is next rented to William Freeland for two years. Though Freeland was a milder, fairer man, his will to escape was nonetheless renewed. He attempted to escape with three of his fellow slaves, but someone betrayed their plans, and he was sent back to Baltimore to learn the trade of ship caulking to keep out of trouble.
Eventually, Douglass received permission from Hugh Auld to hire out his extra time. He saved money bit by bit and eventually made his escape to New York. He refrained from describing the details of his escape in order to protect the safety of future slaves who might attempt the journey. In New York, Douglass feared recapture and changed his name from Bailey to Douglass. Soon after, he married Anna Murray, a free woman he met while in Baltimore. They moved north to Massachusetts, where Douglass became deeply engaged with the abolitionist movement as both a writer and an orator.
The personal account by Douglass really opened my eyes to the horrors of slavery. The book showed the damaging effect of slavery on slaveholders and how it was a perversion of Christianity. I agree with Douglass on not revealing his escape route. I think it wise that he kept the most important part of his narrative a secret so that future runaways can have a better chance at escape. His vivid descriptions of the cruelty of slaveholders were sometimes unbearble. I knew that the masters were usually exceedingly cruel to their slaves, but his narrative made me cringe everytime he was taken to a cruel master. It made me want him to escape so that he will not be subjected to the whippings any longer. He made me feel like that I was there with him, witnessing the horrors of the system. Douglass also presented himself as a reasoned, rational figure. His tone was dry, and he did not exaggerate. He was capable of seeing both sides of an issue, even the issue of slavery. This gave his narrative an objective view that made it very valuable to the abolitionist movement. I thought the narrative was very powerful and touching and should be a good read for everyone.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"His articulate descriptions of the abuses perpetrated by his masters revealed horrors of slavery that previously were unimaginable to most Americans..." This book was written in 1845, but I find even today that though I knew the slaves were mistreated I couldn't imagine how horribly they were treated (not by all slaveowners) until I read this book. And Douglass wrote so well he had me riveted to the pages. It was interesting for me to compare Douglass' slave experiences with those of Booker T. The latter described so well the extreme poverty they lived in, while Douglass described how they were degraded by their treatment - I would say their souls were murdered. This was the main message which came across to me from reading this book; however, there were many interesting things I learned in addition. Such as, getting an idea of how important names and heritage can be to people, getting a feeling for the hunger to learn, finding out why so many slaveowners impregnated their female slaves (why didn't their wives clamor), and why mulattos (like Douglass) were particularly hated, and why disabled slaves were treated particularly horribly. Douglas mentioned a number of times the ever-puzzling relationship between religiosity and cruelty. How some people can believe themselves to be good Christians while at the same time treating their fellow creatures in such an un-Christike manner, to me is one of the great largely-unexplained questions of human behavior. Bottom line is: reading this book was a great experience for me.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
No matter where you are from, what color you are, or what you think is important - if you have not done so, do yourself a favor and read this brief story. If you are an American and do not know of the life of one of America's greatest heroes, then please pick up a copy and read his story. Remember his story-and remember why we hold freedom so dear. If you are from anywhere else, this is your chance to read a true story, like none other, of a man, who, by his own human nature detests the bonds of slavery, and through incredible daring, indefatigable strength and unrelenting intellect, secures his own freedom. It is an easy and quick read (I went through it in a couple hours) but it is also a must read. This is truly a unique and unvarnished look at the terrors, tortures and dehumanization of slavery in Maryland, the fortitude and zeal of the northern abolitionists who safeguarded Douglass and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit over the forces of ignorance and bondage. An eye-opener, emotionally gut wrenching and, finally, uplifting. (For parents and teachers: It is also The Perfect Book to encourage reading!)
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I must confess I first picked up this biography last year as part of an assignment for my AP United States History class because of its relatively short length. What I found was a profound, thought-provoking narrative about Douglass' life as a slave. The language is not verbose but rather clear and cogent. I find that the phrase "a must-read" has become somewhat of a cliché when used today but this book is truly that in every sense. It is "a must-read" because it gives an idea of the horror it was to be a slave from someone with first-hand experience. Yet Douglass writes to educate, not to shock. It isn't necessary to have a special interest in slavery to appreciate this book; rather one must have an interest in identity. Before you do anything else, read this book. It will change your perception of America's past and America's present.