- Series: Bedford Series in History and Culture
- Paperback: 188 pages
- Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's; 2nd edition (December 25, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312257376
- ISBN-13: 978-0312257378
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 2,722 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (Bedford Series in History and Culture) 2nd Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service we offer sellers that lets them store their products in Amazon's fulfillment centers, and we directly pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products. Something we hope you'll especially enjoy: FBA items qualify for FREE Shipping and Amazon Prime.
If you're a seller, Fulfillment by Amazon can help you increase your sales. We invite you to learn more about Fulfillment by Amazon .
There is a newer edition of this item:
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
"Having consistently used the book for almost a decade, I can say that it remains the most popular of my required books. The introduction places Douglass in a historical context comprehensible to undergraduates and offers students shrewd insights into how he drafted his autobiography."
About the Author
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
“This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.’’
Singing touches hearts and minds.
“Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them. The mere recurrence to those songs, even now, afflicts me; and while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek.’’
Douglass astounded by this misinterpretation . . .
“I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness.’’
Preconceived notions, unwarranted assumptions, can be wildly misleading!
One fascinating theme is Douglass’ conviction that slave owners are ruined by slavery as much (more) than slaves . . .
“The crouching servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave, did not answer when manifested toward her. Her favor was not gained by it; she seemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem it impudent or unmannerly for a slave to look her in the face. The meanest slave was put fully at ease in her presence, and none left without feeling better for having seen her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.’’
This young woman had never had a slave . . .
“But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.’’
‘Poison of power’! Still true! ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ - Acton.
Douglass painfully found . . .
“. . . that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said,
“If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an mile. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”
And yet, today most can read, but don’t. Worse, replaced thinking, learning with rote memorization, just repeating others ideas!
“These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly.’’
‘Power to enslave’ from knowledge!
“From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master.’’
What is vehemently forbidden (learning) must be vehemently seized (understood).
Douglass is a devout Christian. This amazing since . . .
“In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty’’
This ‘religious sanction’ for cruelty was widespread. How sad!
Douglass now working in the north as a free man. Surprised at . . .
“I had somehow imbibed the opinion that, in the absence of slaves, there could be no wealth, and very little refinement. And upon coming to the north, I expected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, and uncultivated population, living in the most Spartan-like simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease, luxury, pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders.’’
Wow! ‘No wealth without slavery’! Really?
“Added to this, almost every body seemed to be at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been accustomed to in Baltimore. There were no loud songs heard from those engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths or horrid curses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men; but all seemed to go smoothly on. Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was doing, as well as a sense of his own dignity as a man.’’
How did he respond?
“To me this looked exceedingly strange. From the wharves I strolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely-cultivated gardens; evincing an amount of wealth, comfort, taste, and refinement, such as I had never seen in any part of slaveholding Maryland. Every thing looked clean, new, and beautiful. I saw few or no dilapidated houses, with poverty-stricken inmates; no half-naked children and barefooted women, such as I had been accustomed to see in Hillsborough, Easton, St. Michael’s, and Baltimore. The people looked more able, stronger, healthier, and happier, than those of Maryland.’’
Of course, wealth only comes by making others poor. Right?
“I was for once made glad by a view of extreme wealth, without being saddened by seeing extreme poverty. But the most astonishing as well as the most interesting thing to me was the condition of the colored people, a great many of whom, like myself, had escaped thither as a refuge from the hunters of men. I found many, who had not been seven years out of their chains, living in finer houses, and evidently enjoying more of the comforts of life, than the average of slaveholders in Maryland. They lived in a neater house; dined at a better table; took, paid for, and read, more newspapers; better understood the moral, religious, and political character of the nation,—than nine tenths of the slaveholders in Talbot county Maryland. Yet Mr. Johnson was a working man. His hands were hardened by toil, and not his alone, but those also of Mrs. Johnson.’’
This is so. . .so. . .amazing! What a testimony for freedom, for individual choice!
Douglass adds an appendix -
“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.’’
Well . . . Christ said the same (Matthew 23). He was martyred.
“He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me.’’
This short work (one hundred thirty pages) closer to an essay than biography. Nevertheless, drawn from heart-wrenching experience. Touching, painful, inspiring, insightful, revealing.
I could connect many of the lessons to current culture. Human slavery has passed, but the risk enslaving ourselves, the danger of religious corruption, the viscous abuse of power, have not disappeared.
Douglass’ grasp of the power of knowledge seems to have passed. His deep Christianity, his desire to ‘learn the name of God’ is special. Who now feels this? His ‘love of righteousness and abhorrence of wickedness’ seems so old-fashioned. His faith sustained him.
I wish I could have heard the man!
On the heels of the successful film adaptation of Solomon Northup's narrative, "Twelve Years A Slave," this made very good reading. I might not have read it at all but was inspired to by an excellent recent scholarly (but very readable) article: ""[No] doctor but my master": Health reform and antislavery rhetoric in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the life of a slave girl," by Sarah L. Berry in the March 2014 issue of Jnl of Medical Humanities. Berry's article made an important point, which were all the more clear when reading the entire narrative: slavery and women's health were intimately related. Furthermore, the power that her master - Dr. Norcom (Dr Flint in the anonymized narrative) exerted not just as a slaveholder, but as a physician-slaveholder, is also clear. Some of the tales are heartbreaking and incredible, but true - including her seven *year* hiding in an attic. Her fear, even when seemingly safely away in the north after her escape, of the Fugitive Slave Law, is palpable. This book is extremely important as it is one of the few, if not only, female slave narratives written and published before the Civil War.