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The Distinguished Slave In the novel, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass was eventually able to free himself because he was able to free his mind. This was the rare quality that distinguished Douglass from the vast majority of the slaves. Several slaves during this period of time escaped from the oppression of slavery, but Douglass had a unique potential that his peers lacked. Douglass possessed an awesome determination that would not allow himself to be bound by anything or anyone. Doulgass was also intelligent because he always wanted to know and learn more, further distinguishing himself from the average slave. Through his optimism and cognition, Douglass is able to establish his self “perception, allowing him to become a rational human being, and dangerous slave white society’s eyes. All three main characteristics, in collaboration with each other, is what boldly distinguishes Douglass from his peers, and what allows him to eventually break free from the bonds of slavery.
Frederick Doulgass was determined that slavery was not his final destination. “A nigger should know nothing but obey his master ” to do as he is told to do”(57). There was no way that Douglass would settle for anything of this matter. Douglass refused to remain in the institution of slavery, even if it killed him. His inner rage and desire to be free would not allow him to be contained by anyone or take more than he could handle. “Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, and do what he pleased; but at this moment ” from whence came the spirit I don’t know ” I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose” (78). Douglass was so focused and starved on being free that he proclaimed that even God himself could not stop him from obtaining his prize.
O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides dim in the distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught or get clear, I’ll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose (74).
Douglass basically tells God, if He exists, that he is going to get free whether he has His favor or not. The average slave would not have spoken to God in that manner. Fearing that they could be killed for attempting escape, most slaves would have heavily relied on God to be the guiding light that would lead them to freedom.
Doulgass’ knowledge and passion for reading further brighten his vision and equip him for his quest for freedom. Once Douglass discovered the alphabet, his destiny was set. “Very soon after I went to live with Mr. And Mrs. Auld, she kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters” (57). Even after being forbidden by his master to read ever again, Douglass used his resources and tactfulness to get what he wanted.
Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now if you teach that nigger 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. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him disconnected and unhappy” (57).
“Give a nigger an inch, and he will take an ell.” Douglass refused to be subdued by his master, and since he could not get reading lessons form home, when he was out, thought to be running errands, he was resorting to the neighborhood children. From them he learned the pronounciations, and definitions of the written English language.
The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was successful, was that of making friends of all of the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent to errands, I always took my book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return (60).
This further helped Douglass because it added clarity and identified the rage and desire for freedom that before he had uncertainty about. Now by being reassured and able to read, his determination is increased, and his destination is set. “The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell” (60).
Through his education and knowledge, Douglass is able to establish his sense of self and learn how to become a positive, rational human being. This is a hard task for Douglass to complete because he knows little of his mother, and nothing of his father, except for that he is a white man. “I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night” (40).
I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill (40).
Through turmoil, hardship, and rationality, Douglass discovers that it is not book knowledge or intelligence in the abstract that distinguishes the human species from the brutes. It is the consciousness that allows people to alter the conditions of existence, a consciousness that develops in the struggle for freedom from brute necessity. While at Mr. Freeland’s he teaches the other slaves how to read, and develops strong bonds with all of them.
They were noble souls; they not only possessed loving hearts, but brave ones. We were linked and interlinked with each other. I loved them with a love stronger than anything I have experienced since. It is sometimes said that we slaves do not love and confide in each other. In answer to this assertion, I can say, I never loved any or confided in any people more than my fellow-slaves especially those with whom I lived at Mr. Freeland’s. I believed we would have died for each other (85).
Douglass’ fate was his freedom. Unlike other slaves, Douglass was able to utilize his opposition as a gateway to freedom. Several slaves in this time period tried to escape from plantations, and several succeeded, but either it was luck or God’s oracle and favor on their lives. Several slaves during this time period were caught and killed, and for this reason few slaves attempted to run away. In addition, most slaves did not know where they were, nor did they know where they were going. Frederick Douglass stood where others may have failed. He had an uncanny determination, perseverance, and a thirst for knowledge. Several slaves just wanted to get away from the oppression of slavery, but Douglass wanted to escape to freedom and become a force to be reckoned with. “I will give Mr. Freeland credit of being the best master I ever had, till I became my own master” (85).