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

Summary

Hopkins was eventually replaced by Gore, an ambitious overseer who was exceptionally cruel. Douglass remembers an episode when Gore whipped a slave named Demby so badly that Demby ran into a deep, flowing creek to soothe his shoulders. Gore warned that he would shoot if Demby didn't come out of the creek. Gore counted to three, and Demby still failed to emerge from the creek. Without further warning, Gore cocked his musket and killed Demby. Gore later explained to Lloyd that the killing served as an example to other slaves: disobey — and die. Douglass elaborates that killing a slave is not considered a crime by the courts nor by the community in Maryland. He provides two more examples of owners who murdered their slaves but escaped punishment from the courts and censure from the community.

Analysis

Slave owners and their overseers are the law. This chapter makes it clear that slaves live in continual terror and in an extrajudicial system. Douglass makes an argument here against the existence of two different legal and moral systems, one for whites and another for slaves. Again, Douglass illustrates that slave owners rule by example; the horrible punishment exacted on Demby was meant to be an example to others. Slaves are scared into subservience. The control of slaves requires complete physical, as well as mental, submission.

Being an overseer is a career choice, and to be a good one requires certain qualifications. Gore certainly met the standards of being a good overseer. He was ambitious enough to realize that he had to be exceedingly cruel and cold — and his work was soon appreciated by whites, and his fame grew.

From Chapter I to Chapter IV we have been presented with increasingly atrocious horrors of slavery — and just as we feel that things could not be worse, we are further horrified. Yet Douglass' role up to this point is mainly as a narrator/observer; his detachment is an excellent rhetorical strategy. He wants, first of all, to present examples of evidence in order to fully develop his case. By this point in his testimony, his evidence has certainly swayed most readers.

Glossary

servile subservient, submissive.

arraigned before a court charged with an offense in court.

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