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

Summary

Douglass returned to Master Thomas Auld's household in St. Michael's, Talbot County, Maryland, in March 1832. His new master gave him little food to sustain himself, for Auld was born poor and only acquired property and slaves through marriage. Douglass and other slaves were apparently very contemptuous of him. Douglass describes Thomas as "a slaveholder without the ability to hold slaves . . . [and] incapable of managing his slaves either by force, fear, or fraud." Thomas Auld became religious during Douglass' stay with him, but his newfound Christianity did not make him any kinder. Instead, Thomas "found religious sanction for his cruelty" and quoted scriptures while whipping slaves. After nine months, Thomas found Douglass unmanageable and decided to "lend" him for one year to Edward Covey, a poor farmer who was known as a superb slave breaker. Slave owners who could not control their slaves sent them to Covey for "training"; in return, Covey had free use of these slaves for the farms that he rented.

Analysis

Even as a slave, Douglass recognized that there were class differences among slave owners. Those born poor and not used to owning slaves were the least competent in handling slaves. As a result, they could be exceedingly mean. Thomas Auld was obviously one such person. He apparently tried his best to appear noble and strong but manifested only a mean and cowardly spirit. Again, Douglass criticizes the vicious and loudly self-righteous Christianity of slave owners. The greatest hypocrites were those who quoted chapter and verse of their religion but were savagely cruel to their slaves.

Glossary

religious sanction Divine authorization.

He that knoweth . . . many stripes. The passage is from Luke 12:47.

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