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Comparative Analysis of Frederick Douglass

Slavery was quite a rampant observation prior to the Civil War. Many accounts, including autobiographical ones have been written, by and relating to the subjection of African-Americans to slavery. Out of these numerous works, perhaps the ones by Frederick Douglass are the most intriguing and enlightening ones. “My Bondage and My Freedom” was published in the year 1855. It was the second of the three autobiographies penned by Frederick Douglass. An extension to the first autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, the author here undertakes to augment on his journey from a slave to a free man.

It describes in depth the encounters and experiences of his evolution from bondage to being a fugitive to finally transforming into a reformist, working to free eliminate slavery and enhance the lives of African Americans. The historical as well as literary significance of “My Bondage and My Freedom” is irrefutable. For a reader, the interest lies in the various lessons that can be learnt from this piece of work. The reason for having chosen this particular work was, firstly, to have a better understanding of Frederick Douglass’ life and endeavors.

Secondly, it was because the strength of character and determination that was demonstrated by Douglass is both intriguing and inspirational and the reader ought to understand it further. No doubt there have been countless individuals throughout history that have changed its course, along with the course of their own lives; but to have come from the subservient background that he did and to have caused such revolutionary changes is more than commendable. A perusal of “My Bondage and My Freedom”, after having read the “Narrative” definitely augments one’s appreciation of the challenges and efforts of Douglass.

The language adopted by Douglass is candid and forthright. The facts are stated, plain and simple, with no overstatements. This combined with the fact that it is a first person account of actual incidents, endows the story with more profound meaning, and makes it easier for the reader to comprehend the events. The miserable conditions of the slaves, their ill-treatment and the hardships that dictated their lives are some of the matters that Douglass acquaints the reader with. In “My Bondage and My Freedom”, Douglass enhances upon the details of his accounts in his “Narrative”.

He also describes his experiences as a travelling lecturer in the United States, England, Ireland and Scotland. While the “Narrative” contains notes by white abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, “My Bondage and My Freedom” consists of an introduction by the prominent black abolitionist Dr. James M’Cune Smith. Further, the appendix to the former book comprises, primarily, of the author’s notions and observations regarding religion and faith. The appendix to the latter work includes excerpts from his lectures on abolitionism that serve to enlighten the reader further about the kind of work done by Douglass.

The first nine chapters of “My Bondage and My Freedom” are basically the first five chapters of his “Narrative”, elongated. In the tenth chapter, Douglass explicates his existence working for Hugh Auld stating, “I had been treated as a pig on the plantation; I was treated as a child now,” (141). He also explains how his master’s wife tried to teach him to read and the repudiation of his master for the same only assures him of the significance of literacy. He tries to attain education through little white boys by offering them food in return.

“For a single biscuit, any of my hungry little comrades would give me a lesson more valuable to me than bread”, he reveals (155). Thus, in his second autobiography, Douglass expounds further on the means he resorted to in order to learn to read and write. The reader is left with a sense of awe realizing the lengths Douglass went to and the determination he exhibits for acquiring literacy. The following chapters, up to twenty further elucidate his relocations, transformations and his escape. The final four chapters deal with his life of “freedom”, his marriage and his endeavors towards the liberation of slaves and abolition of slavery.

His participation in the American Anti-Slavery Society, his works as a traveling lecturer on abolitionism and his struggle for starting a newspaper is discussed here. He finally set up his newspaper, the “North Star” in December 1847. He concludes by asserting his mission statement, “to promote the moral, social, religious, and intellectual elevation of the free colored people . . . to advocate the great and primary work of the universal and unconditional emancipation of my entire race” (406).

The portrayal of his life of liberation is further explained in “My Bondage and My Freedom” as compared to “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”. His labor and efforts towards the freeing of slaves and his involvement in the various movements towards the same end are described in greater detail. Reading both works, namely, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” and “My Bondage and My Freedom” certainly amplifies one’s understanding of the purpose and themes of Frederick Douglass. The latter provides greater insight into the life and challenges of the author.

His work as a writer, abolitionist, journalist, orator and publisher is praiseworthy. He made remarkable progress in his efforts. He was a leader, par excellence, a self-taught man and a pioneer of sorts. The above mentioned autobiographies detail his quest for liberty and justice. His was one of the most powerful voices against slavery and in favor of humanity. Even centuries after they were written, his works serve to explain and wage a battle against the brutalities of slavery and the mistreatment and oppression of African Americans.

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