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Dehumanizing Slaves

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1973
  • Category: Slavery

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The Dehumanization of the Enslave: Frederick Douglass The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself Every human being should be given the right to an education, love and the pursuit of happiness. A slave is a human. Therefore, the pilfering of a human’s right through the force of human cruelty is an act of dehumanization for the purpose of ownership and free labor. The act of dehumanizing a slave is a slave master’s desire. A slave master needs control over the mind of the enslaved in order to gain free employment. Slavery is a dehumanizing institution. Slaves are captured, beaten, tortured and traumatize for the purpose of free labor. The intention of dehumanizing a slave is to control, manipulate, and force the intelligence of a person into bondage. Frederick Douglass’s, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself and Solomon Northup’s The Twelve Years of Slave give insight on the purpose and the process of the dehumanizing of slaves.

To dehumanize a person is to eliminate the human qualities through manipulation, torture and human cruelty. Douglass and Northup utilize their personal experiences as enslaves to depict the representation of slavery and how the masters overthrow the enslaved by torture, beatings and even killings. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the dehumanization institution of slavery uses violence, power, and identity theft to strip the identity of slaves, compel them to animal like characteristics, and repudiate them of any education. A person’s name is not their only identity. However, the name change did have relevance in the process of identity theft. People personal characteristics, personalities, and qualities assist in the shaping of one’s identity. Kimberly Drakes author of the essay, “Rewriting the American self: race, gender, and identity in the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs”, focuses on how an enslaved author such as Douglass creates his new identity through literature. Frederick Douglass, whose stolen identity, early in his life, is not aware of his date of birth or age and is fearful to question his master (395).

According to Jeannine DeLombard article, “Eye-Witness To The Cruelty: Southern Violence And Northern Testimony In Frederick Douglass, the fearful enslave task is “not to speak but to stand, listen and tremble”(14), or have any concern about his identity. The purpose of identity theft is to break the family lineage and create a paternal power of the master to the enslaved. The master gives his slaves his family name. In doing this, the master is positioning himself as a “father” figure to his slaves and furthermore claiming a distinct position of ownership over his “property”. Drake describes it best, “the child enters into society not as a person but as an object”(6), a slave and for recognition purposes the master calls him “boy” even as an adult. The slave is not even worthy of being called by his name, having no recognition or identity. Douglass is taking from his mother, while too young to remember anything about her and too young to understand affection (395). The paternal separation is part of the slavery process in order to eliminate human qualities such as love, affection and protection. An infant learns these human qualities from his mother.

This type of separation is practice in today’s society when a mother gives up her parental rights to an infant for adoption. Therefore, the mother and child’s bond is broken immediately after birth. Northup recalls the separation of a female slave “Eliza”, from her young children; her spirit is broken and she becomes disappointed and full of despair (60). Freeman the slaveholder holds no regards at the buying and selling of Eliza and by force separates her from her only remaining child. “Freeman, out of patience, tore Emily from her mother by main force, the two clinging to each other with all their might”, “Don’t leave me, mama—don’t leave me” is the desperate plea of Emily the daughter to her mother Eliza(58). Human cruelty is more than physical violence, but communication, tone and other unpleasureable behavior damages a human’s identity. The force of violence controls the identity of the enslaves. “ Given that the human appetite for cruel spectacles is unabated and that arousal by scenes of cruelty remains part of the human condition, it is remarkable that punishment” controls the aspects of a persons thoughts and actions. (Zangwill 11)

The slave master shows no respect for his worker’s birth name, parents, family or feelings. Northup claims his identity is that of a free man; violence, beatings and handcuffs from Burch the slaveholder assures him his identity is that of a slave.(Northup,26) After severe torture and punishment, a slave learns to accept his identity or die trying to change it. “I was only a nigger and new my place”, (Northup,241) is evident that a slave is what his master says he is. Solomon Northup whose name is change several times by his master to Platt.(50) Although slavery is abolished today, there is still a negative effect on African American’s that still remain. For example, a mother is given the right to name her child and until the child desire to change it remains. However, there is still a negative connotation associated with the African American name today. The characteristics of a female is naturally seen as gentle and fragile. The color of the skin identifies the woman. The white mistress is normally seen as a pure, righteous woman and the black woman is seen as enslaved, a child -bearing machine. The black woman is depict as the domesticated woman and her skills become her new identity. One of the female enslaved duties is to care for the white mistress child. She is known for what she can do but is not respected for what she has done.

The woman loses her identity; she is a slave with a purpose. “The enslave woman, while certainly dependent on her master, was forced to work like a man and to breed like an animal”(Drake,4, illustrates how the task of the women is dictated by the institution of slavery. The beating of a female slave receives equal torture, severe beatings, rape and even murder. The first beating Douglass witnesses is that of Aunt Hester, for disobeying her master. Douglass claims “the more she hollered the worst her beating”(398). The idea that Douglass witnesses a female being beaten clarifies that the enslave has no characteristics, no identity or quality. Dehumanizing the women, reducing their qualities of being a woman mirrors the idea of human torture for the master’s personal gain. Douglass describes witnessing a woman being whipped, “causing the blood to run half an hour at the time in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release”(400). Pasty, a female slave, beaten because of her beauty and then torture because Mistress Epps is jealous is an illustration of how the enslave woman is treated. Pasty receives no favoritism as a female or woman but receives harsher cruelty from her master, her master’s mistress and even from Northup because the master demands it. (Northup, 199)

Douglass describes witnessing a woman being whipped, “causing the blood to run half an hour at the time in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release”(400). The communication, beatings, and treatment by slave masters and overseers to the enslave parallels with that of animals. Northup describes receiving blankets similar to those “use upon horses”(29) and Douglass description of the separation of infants from mothers before the baby reaches the twelfth month, (395) parallels to the separation of dogs from their puppies. Mr. Epps, a cruel slaveholder is known as “a nigger breaker”(Northup,138) for his severe cruelty on the enslave and his perception that a colored man holds no value except as “mere live property no better, except in value, then his mule or dog” (Northup,138). Like other environmental upbringing transcend from generation to generation, the mindset of a master follows to his offspring. Young Epps perceives that the black man receives the same respect as an animal, “to work like his faher’s mules—to be whipped and kicked and scourged through life”(Northup,201) In the majority of slave literature, the description of the plantation is quite with the exception of the squealing, crying and weeping of the enslaves during a beaten.

The sound reflects upon a reader like the sound of tortured animal. According to Nick Zangwill, author of the essay, “Explaining Human Cruelty”, depicts that human cruelty was considered the worst cruelty amongst the slaves and the “inferior race”(10).This type of cruelty was use to gain the social control of the enslaved. The witnessing of violence by the slave master on the other slaves leaves an everlasting memory and destroys the physiological identity of the enslave. DeLombard, analyzes the brutality in the South and the affect it has on the slaves. For example, “the visual power of the injured black body to convey brutality of the South’s peculiar institution”( 1),draws a parallel with the dehumanization institution of slavery. As Douglass recalls the beating of Aunt Hester, he describes it as “the entrance to the hell of slavery”(Douglass,397). The idea that Douglass witness brutality on a woman signifies there is no mercy on male or female. Although, Douglass is young when this brutality transpires, the memory lives through literature.

The purpose of the slave master brutal force is to scorn the memory of the current slaves and the younger ones to come. As Douglass perceives it, “No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose,”(Douglass,397). The master’s gratification appeared by the severity of pain he inflicted. The slave master gains power and self-satisfaction through violence on the enslave. Regardless of the brutality witnessing, many slaves experience fear beyond speaking. The idea of seeing the murders, rapes, black bodies severely beaten shocks the brain into silencing the tongue. A literate slave is a run-away slave according to the institution of slavery. The slave master forbids his wife to educate Douglass because “learning would spoiled the best nigger”(Douglass,409). The enslave need no knowledge because it causes rebellion and understanding of the human rights. Drake supports the claim, that “learning how to read and write provides implicit claim to self-ownership and self possession”(Drake,19); the slave master loses his power to an educated slave. If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell.

A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, nd of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.(Douglass 409) Although, Northup appears an educated man before his slave master, he is forbidden to use correct grammar because it embarrasses the slave master. The dehumanization of slavery breaks the human spirit, destroys the human affection and creates the body into a working manufacture.

Northup summarizes, the existence of Slavery in its most cruel form among them has a tendency to brutalize the humane and finer feelings of their nature. Daily witnesses of human suffering–listening to the agonizing screeches of the slave– beholding him writhing beneath the merciless lash– bitten and torn by dogs– dying without attention– and buried without shroud or coffin– it cannot otherwise be expected, than that they should become brutified and reckless of human life. (157) The constant physical violence, painful communication, family separation and pitiable treatment among the enslaved results in death, despair, and master manipulation. Ironically, both Douglass and Northup relate slavery to the “agony of hell” (Northup26).

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