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

Summary

Douglass spent about seven years in Master Hugh's house, and, in secret, he learned to read and write during that time, despite the fact that the once-kindly Mrs. Auld soon internalized the evils of being a slave owner. She accepted the advice of her husband and became a strident advocate of keeping slaves illiterate, for she feared losing Douglass if he gained an education. However, Douglass developed schemes to learn how to read; he tricked neighborhood kids into teaching him by giving bread to poor white boys in exchange for lessons, and he practiced writing using little Thomas' books.

Ironically, Douglass' ability to read soon made him unhappy, for it opened up a whole new-and wretched-world for him. From newspapers, he realized the enormity of a people enslaved by powerful white masters. However, newspapers also furnished him information about the abolitionist movements in the North, and he learned about the Irish dramatist and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his struggles for Catholic emancipation and human rights. His spirits began to lift after meeting some sympathetic Irish workers in a shipyard, who advised him to escape to the North. He was only twelve years old, but he resolved that day to eventually run away.

Analysis

Until his arrival in Baltimore, Douglass had been a victim of circumstances; decisions affecting him were made for him. Now, for the first time, he begins to make decisions independent of the people around him. His first major decision is deciding that he wants to learn. His resolve is further strengthened when Hugh Auld tries to prevent him from gaining an education. At that moment, he realizes that the ability of powerful whites to control slaves comes not so much from physical control as it does from mental domination. As long as whites can keep slaves ignorant, they can control them. Hugh's diatribe against educating slaves ironically becomes a significant revelation to Douglass: "I now understood . . . the white man's power to enslave the black man. . . . I was gladdened by the invaluable instruchon which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master." Douglass was determined to learn to read — at all costs.

Evidential standards for the treatment of slaves in cities were somewhat better than those in the countryside. In the countryside, Lloyd had few white neighbors, so mistreatment was unlikely to be censured by others. In the cities, larger populations subjected slave owners to more public scrutiny. Neighbors thus had a moderating effect on the conduct of slaveholders in the city.

Glossary

chattel belongings; property; slaves.

divest her of this heavenly quality take away the goodness in her.

Columbian Orator a collection of classic speeches, dialogues, and plays edited by Caleb Bingham and published in 1797. Douglass patterned his own lectures after these classic speeches.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) an Irish playwright who argued for Irish emancipation from English rule.

larboard the left-hand side of a ship, facing forward.

starboard the right-hand side of a ship, facing forward.

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