Sample Homework Paper on the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

What does Douglass tell us in general about slave life on a large plantation, including what he says about slave children? 

This narrative exposes slavery and discloses its viciousness and wrongness on the plantation. To various citizens who were non-abolitionists, slavery seemed to be a completely normal practice. To them, spiritual and economic points of view illustrated that blacks were naturally of lower class when compared to whites and that they were supposed to be an enslaved work force. The author presents an apparent case that slavery is not sustained by the natural supremacy of whites, but through various planned strategies of seizing power over the blacks. Douglass illustrates how slave masters make slaves weak by separating them from their parents. He writes to inform white audiences about what is actually experienced at the plantations, including other brutal and dissolute behaviors. He discusses on how the white slave masters impregnated their slaves and how the payment of the slave kids was granted to their parents, or the elderly women who were taking care of them. Since the children were unable to labor in the field, they had neither shoes nor trousers and their clothing comprised of two linen shirts for each year. When these clothes became worn out, they went unclothed until the subsequent allowance-day (Douglass, 1999, p 5- 14).

  1. In addition to occasional sexual contacts, what do we learn about master-slave relations? 

Douglass cautiously illustrates the emotional violence of slavery. In addition to sexual contacts, he also focuses on the harmful effects of slave masters’ unpredictability of retribution. He explains how masters regularly punished slaves when they least expected it, but avoid to punish them at the appropriate time. He also presents an illustration of Colonel Lloyd who met one of his slaves talking bad things about his master. The slave was not punished for it until several weeks afterward. This postponement of retribution makes the act to appear disconnected from the crime committed by the slave. To survive, slaves ought to be paranoid and must bear the feeling that one day they will be reprimanded despite their actions. Douglass explains the mind games that exist between the slaves and their masters and the general behaviors of slaves as ordinary human reactions under the circumstances (Douglass, 1999, p. 15-21).

  1. How does Douglass’s life in Baltimore differ from his life on the plantation?

The life of Douglass in Baltimore was completely different from that of the plantation. When he goes to live with the Auld in Baltimore, he was for a while given a chance to gain knowledge of reading and writing. On the plantation, he had no such opportunities and the only responsibility he had was running small errands. However, Mrs. Auld was convinced that it is an offense to educate him and hence he is sent around on errands all through the town. In order to continue with his learning, he later uses little boys around who are ready to educate him for the price of some tidbits. In later years, Douglass is able to learn the caulking trade in Baltimore and becomes a skilled worker whereas on the plantation he performs no particular tasks. Here in Baltimore, he felt a sense of purpose and even sovereignty that he had never experienced when he was staying in plantation (Douglass, 1999, p. 25-36).

  1. How does Douglass learn to read and write, and why does his master say having this ability will make him miserable, not happy?

Douglass spent 7 years in the Hugh’s homestead and during this period, he was capable of educate himself on how to read and write without the help of any formal tutor. When Sophia was scolded by her husband for showing Douglass how to read, she decided not only to stop coaching him but also to prevent him from obtaining knowledge in any way. However, he was able to befriend the white kids in his quarter, some of whom were deprived, and bribed them with some bread from the Auld house in exchange for short reading lessons. The white kids were empathetic to his situation but he could not thank them by name in order to save them the humiliation of having assisted a slave. When Douglass was able to read, he stumbled upon a couple of books that he reads repeatedly. He also learnt how to write by observing carpenters working in the shipyards. The carpenters labeled pieces of timber with letters that matches their position in the ship. Once he grasped the four letters from the shipyard, he challenges white kids to writing competition. They consistently defeat him, but in that way, he was able to learn letters he previously did not know. In addition, Douglass could utilize the time he spent in home unsupervised to fill the blank pages in language books that belonged to the Auld’s son. His master however alleged that, having this ability to read would make him miserable and not happy. This meant that, while his reading ability could provide him with a logical technique of dealing with his enslavement, it could also compel him to further detest his enslavers. This painful understanding occasionally could make Douglass perceive his knowledge as a curse instead of a blessing. Douglass could now be distressed by his enslavement after being conscious of freedom (Douglass, 1999, p. 36-41).

  1. Why must Douglass return to Great Farm from Baltimore? What does this tell us about the legal system and the position of slaves? 

Approximately two years after his wife passed away, Thomas Auld marries once again. Later on after the marriage, Thomas had a disagreement with Hugh who is his sibling and Thomas punishes him by repossessing Douglass. Douglass did not regret leaving Hugh’s homestead since Hugh had turned into a drunk and Sophia had developed into being cruel. However, he is sorry to depart with the neighborhood kids, who had became his friends and tutors. Douglass shows the harsh atmosphere of the countryside plantation, where they were closely supervised, cruelly punished, and treated as goods. He further expands this suggestion by showing how slaves were normally passed from one owner to the other just like property. This also shows the social injustices that existed in the legal systems during that time (Douglass, 1999, p. 40-49).

  1. Who is Mr. Covey and what is the importance of Douglass’s fight with him?

Mr. Covey is portrayed in the story as a poor white cultivator who is renowned of being an efficient slave-breaker. When farmers had slaves who proved to be troublesome, they sent them to Covey. His technique was to work them and beat them until they can hardly memorize their personal names. The most significant turning point in Douglass’s life came when Covey attempted to beat him. He refused to let Covey to beat him and they fought it out but nobody won the fight. From that moment onwards, Covey never whipped Douglass again. He had to keep it as a secret so as avoid losing his status in the community as a slave-breaker if any person knew (Douglass, 1999, p. 57- 73).

  1. According to Douglass, why do masters try to get their slaves drunk at Christmas-time? 

Douglass wanted to illustrate that the slave masters did not sustain their control over their slaves by just using force. An important technique in which they maintained control is by misleading their slaves into not becoming aware of what slavery meant. Once they gave their slaves some freedom during Christmas, they made them to get drunk and humiliate themselves, with the intention that, after they get  a hung over, they will relate those awful feelings with liberation and decide they did not want to be liberated at all. This means that Slavery largely depended on trickery to sustain domination (Douglass, 1999, p. 60-71).

  1. Why does Douglass attempt to escape when he does? How is he able to escape?

While quietly observing the whites navigating on the Chesapeake shoreline, Douglass decided that he would instead die than be whipped again. When he confronted Covey and said so, he realizes something wonderful and this is the fact that Covey did not kill him. The moment Douglass decided to gain his freedom at any cost, he pretended to be a sailor and he dressed in a red top, a tarpaulin cap and a black scarf attached with a loose knot around his neck. In addition, he had to be able to speak like a sailor and his understanding of ships and sailor’s language was of great assistance to him. He was familiar with a ship from trunk to stern and from keelson to crosstrees, and could eloquently express himself like a sailor. Together with the other black travelers, Douglass had to disclose his “free papers” which were document confirmed that a person was free and could travel together with his travel document. Since he was a fugitive slave, he did not posses free papers. However, he had borrowed a document that was known as a Seaman’s Protection Certificate, which provided evidenced that a sailor was a united states’ citizen (Life and times, p. 26-28).

  1. In what ways does Douglass view the North as different from the South? What does he finds in the North confirm what he had presumed it would be, or is it different? 

Douglass was extremely surprised by the life in New Bedford. He had thought that the Northern residents would be similar to the southern residents who did not own slaves and hence he expected them to be poor, old-fashioned, and live modestly. He believed that the only people who could be wealthy and comfortable are those who owned slaves. Nonetheless, New Bedford subverted his expectations since there were huge and well-reserved ships in the port, packed warehouses of merchandise, and smart houses. The people were decent, bright, and each man appeared to value his work, and carried it out with a clear-headed, yet positive earnestness (Douglass, 113). He found numerous churches, which were all attractive and shining. The city was full of Gardens, the residents appeared to be happier, and in good health than those who lived in Maryland (Douglass, 1999, p. 100-110)


  1. What is Douglass’s attitude toward Christianity?

Douglass does not hesitate to express his views relating to the slave owners’ understanding of Christianity. When describing Thomas Auld, he indicated that his master had undergone a spiritual conversion but did not transform for the better but instead, he found greater support for his malice through religious conviction. Covey is also described in the book as a pious man, and a person filled with deceit, treachery, and cruelty. According to Douglass, slaveholders who were religious are the worst and at Freeland’s ranch, he commented on how delighted he was that the man did not pretend to be religious. This is because he deemed the slave masters who were religious as the meanest and the most brutal of all other masters (Douglass, 1999, p. 62). However, In the Appendix, he clarifies his stance on Christianity. He clarified that he was not unspiritual, but that the Christianity of Christ was not the same as the Christianity of the white people who lived in the south who were above all hypocrites and traitors to the word of God. It is apparent that Douglass situates the true faith in the black people, where it was cleaner and untainted by racial discrimination and evil. His religious beliefs are clearly articulated since he believed God had intended him to someday flee from slavery. He understood that there must be some intervention from Providence to select him from amongst all of the slave kids to relocate to Baltimore where the events that enabled him to actually become “Frederick Douglass” transpired (Douglass, 1999, p. 60-75).



Douglass, F. (1999). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.

Douglas, F. (1941). Life and times of Frederick Douglass. Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press.