Slaves And Slavery In The Narrative Of Frederick Douglass

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In the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, Douglass is tasked with not only making a case for abolitionism, but also making this case to an audience that contributes to and benefits from slavery. As such, he must provide an account that is equal parts believable and moving, all the while treading the line of not alienating his target audience of white women. However, through his depiction of slavery as a corrosive agent on the family structure and ideals, Douglass makes a sentimental appeal to white women.
Douglass begins by calling attention to the grave impact slavery has on the family life of the slave, starting with Douglass himself. While Douglass’s Narrative is most immediately an autobiographical text, his status as a slave severely limits his account from adhering to its structure. Specifically, because he was effectively born into the world as somebody else’s property, Douglass is “deprived” (1) of even the most basic autobiographical element – his age and birthday. But perhaps even more heartbreaking is his description of his family structure growing up. Douglass establishes that it is custom for children born into slavery to be taken from their mothers as early as one year old; Douglass was no exception. The purpose of this, according to Douglass, can only be an attempt to sever the bond between mother and child, the “inevitable result” (2). Despite this practice, Douglass’s mother undertook great efforts to see her son, walking twelve miles in the dark (after working all day), the few times she had permission to do so. The content of this anecdote mimics that of a sentimental novel; a mother’s pursuit to care for her child despite all barriers, and against all odds – a testament to the strength of the maternal instinct and a
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Douglass recounts how it was typical of masters to sleep with their slaves to a variety of ends, ranging from economic to the

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