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

Summary

Mrs. Sophia Auld was unlike any white person Douglass had met before because she had "the kindest heart and finest feelings." She had never owned a slave, and, prior to her marriage, she was an industrious weaver. But her personality soon changed. At first, Mrs. Auld taught Douglass how to read, but Mr. Auld admonished her and explained, "Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world . . . if you teach that nigger . . . how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave."

Slaves in the cities were generally treated better than those on plantations. Douglass was better fed and clothed in Baltimore than he had ever been. There were also community standards regarding how slaves should be treated: "Few are willing to incur the odium attaching the reputation of being a cruel master. . . . Every city slave-holder is anxious to have it known of him, that he feeds his slaves well." Douglass, however, ends this chapter with one exception — Mary, a slave in the neighborhood, is treated brutally by her master.

Analysis

In this and the next chapter, Douglass explores how slavery is detrimental to whites. The Narrative, after all, is an advocacy statement. Douglass wants to convince his white readers in the North and South that slavery is bad on moral, legal, religious, and economic grounds. Here, Douglass shows us how slavery corrupts the morality of whites: Initially, Mrs. Sophia Auld was a kind and industrious person, who treated Douglass like a genuine human being because prior to meeting Douglass, she had never owned a slave. In the beginning, Sophia Auld did not understand that teaching Douglass to read and write would free his mind, a first step toward physical freedom. But after her husband explained to her that freeing Douglass' mind could lead her to losing her property (that is, Douglass himself), she changed her attitude.

Douglass ends this chapter by presenting the horrifying story of Mary, a neighboring slave. He does this because he wants to show that even though slavery in the cities is comparatively better, it is still unacceptable. His point is that wherever there is slavery, there will be mistreated slaves.

Glossary

blighting a scourge, devastation.

vestige a remnant; a trace of.

offal parts of an animal killed for food, which are thrown away.

gup a swindler or cheater.

ell about 45 inches; a British unit of measurement.

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