Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave By Frederick Douglass Summary and Analysis Chapter III

Summary

When Douglass went to live at Colonel Lloyd's plantation, he was awed by the splendor he saw. Douglass heard that Lloyd owned approximately a thousand slaves, and he believes that this estimate is probably accurate. Lloyd was especially renowned for his beautiful garden, which people traveled many miles to view. Unfortunately, the garden had an abundance of tempting fruits which were off-limits to the hungry slaves, who were whipped if they were caught stealing fruit. The crafty colonel spread tar around the garden to catch thieves, and the mere evidence of tar on a slave was sufficient grounds for a lashing. The colonel also had a stable of splendid horses, which he clearly loved more than his slaves. The slaves who took care of the horses were frequently whipped for not performing their duties to the colonel's precise demands.

Because Colonel Lloyd owned so many slaves, some of them never met him. Not surprisingly, one day while riding around the large plantation, he met a slave and asked him who his master was and how his master treated him. When he heard negative comments, he would note who the slave was and arranged to have that slave sold to a Georgian slave trader.

Douglass explains that owners often send in colored spies among their own slaves to determine their views about their living and working conditions. For this reason, many slaves, when asked by other slaves about their living conditions, simply lie and present a pleasing picture of slavery. Strangely enough, slaves often seem to feel particularly proud of their affiliation with their owner when confronting slaves owned by a different owner, and fistfights are often the result of heated discussions among slaves, regarding whose owner is better, stronger, or richer.

Analysis

Douglass is implicit in his criticism that the splendor of Colonel Lloyd's estate was made possible only by the toil of slaves. Ironically, in a cruel gesture, slaves were never allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In fact, slaves were constantly kept hungry.

In this and other chapters, Douglass presents a vast panorama of slaves under constant surveillance. Not only do slave owners lay traps to catch slaves breaking rules, he says, but they want to eliminate all dissenting slaves. And they accomplish this end by various means, including spying and entrapment. The constant surveillance by owners is one of many ways slaves are intimidated and brainwashed into believing that their lot is better than it really is. In effect, slaves are unconscious of their reality. This fact is illustrated by the example of slaves fighting among themselves to determine whose owner is better. Douglass condemns this false consciousness which destroys solidarity among slaves. Perversely, loyalty has become a matter of pledging allegiance to one's owner and not to one's brother.

Douglass is repeatedly critical of the slave owners' value system. Not only do owners treat slaves like animals, but they usually value animals more than their slaves. Lloyd certainly mistreated his slaves but never his horses; Douglass says that such a system which prizes animals over humans is heinous. Lloyd likewise meted out punishment in an arbitrary manner; because the horse handlers (the two Barneys) could never satisfy him, Lloyd's justice exemplified the capricious system of slavery.

Glossary

ascertain to make certain.

imbibe to absorb; to take part in.

Jacob Jepson a rich slave owner, a neighbor of Colonel Lloyd's.

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