Violence In The Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous, albeit mistranslated, quote, “Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence,” rings true throughout the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave: Written by Himself. This is shown through the slave owners’ restriction of the slaves’ ability to read and write. In addition, the use of deception to keep the slaves content with their enslaved life also proves the ideas introduced by the quote. Finally, the idea is proven through the punishments inflicted on slaves if they are caught trying to learn to read or write.
As Solzhenitsyn speculates in his quote, the violence carried out in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass can only be concealed
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As Douglass notes about Mr. Severe, “[the] field [is] the place to witness his cruelty… [his] presence [makes] it both the field of blood and of blasphemy” (28). These public whippings serve the masters as a deterrent for other slaves who might wish to slack off. However, another way, this one much more effective, is to instead hide the fact that something is out of the ordinary, to hide the fact that the violence taking place is cruel and unusual. This is, in essence, what Solzhenitsyn is commenting on in his quote. The violence which the slave owners wish to conceal is the cruelty. They attempt to conceal it, not through hiding the beatings themselves, but by hiding the fact that the beatings are cruel, rather than a natural part of life. They do this through their restriction of the slaves’ ability to read and write. Without the ability to read, the slaves are unable to gather any information from the newspapers, and are completely cut off from the world outside the plantation. By not allowing the slaves to be able to read the newspapers, the slaveholders are concealing the lie that there is anywhere without slaves, causing the slaves to view their…show more content…
The lack of knowledge of the outside world, and the corresponding inability to read or write, can only be maintained through beatings, whippings, and other punishments. When Douglass is seen being taught how to read and write, he is commanded to never do so again, and the woman who was teaching him is told to never teach him, or any slave, how to read or write. Douglass learns of the true reasons why slaves were not permitted to learn to read by accident, when Auld scolds his wife for teaching Douglass, saying that "[if a slave is taught] 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…” (48). When he heard of the fear that his master had for the prospect of slaves learning to read, the “words sank deep into [his] heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought” (48). His master’s fear revealed the true nature of the control of the ability to read: to keep the slaves from learning that life is better outside the plantation and running away.
Solzhenitsyn was correct in saying that “violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence.” This is shown to be true throughout the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave: Written by Himself, through the slave’s inability to learn how to read
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