Dehumanization In Slavery

Powerful Essays
Megan Swintosky
Mrs. Nelson
5 January 2015
Honors American Lit

Targeted Animal Imagery to Reveal Dehumanization among Slaves
Is it moral to treat a minority with the same respect as livestock? In the 1800s, the time of Frederick Douglass, customarily, white people served precedence over black people, and enslaved them in inhumane ways. In the Narrative…, Frederick Douglass uses animal imagery of slaves and slaveholders to express the idea that superiority due to differences can lead to dehumanization, such as the idea that the enslavement of humans and animals both result in similar treatment, language, and behavior of slaves and their slaveholders.
A strong example of dehumanization, animal imagery through language, was recognized and noted
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Unlike describing the slaves as helpless, mindless livestock, he portrays the slaveholders as predators, usually lions. One example is when his master died, so all of his property had to be collected and divided between his children. Douglass became the property his late master’s daughter, Lucretia, and she sent him back to Baltimore; with a sigh of relief, he exclaims, “I escaped a fate worse than lion’s jaws” (41). The lion’s jaw does not directly represent Lucretia, but a slave plantation as a whole, which Douglass had never before labored on. He mentions slavery as a whole again as being a dangerous place of animals when he escapes north; he notes, “I felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions” (92). After Douglass had just begun to labor for Mr. Covey, he ran away to his former master Mr. Auld to plea for release, he described his appearance as “a man who had escaped a den of wild beasts, and barely escaped them” (59), which directly describes how he barely got away from Mr. Covey’s plantation. Douglass is sure to note that slaveholders were dehumanized in the process of dehumanizing slaves, which is expressed clearly by Mrs. Auld. She was, at first welcoming, kind, and the opposite of oppressive, but she changed from have “lamb-like disposition” to having “tiger-like fierceness”(32); again, transitioning from prey to…show more content…
Douglass not only observed this dehumanization, he lived through it, which is one of the most valuable sources one can use. This theme of superiority causing dehumanization, and, more broadly, inequality, is universal in the sense that it applies to the oppression and prejudices of any group that differs in things as small as religion, race, gender, wealth, etc. due to a minute difference that creates
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