Study Help Essay Questions


1. Why do you think it was important for slave owners to keep slaves ignorant about their birthdays and parentage? Douglass opens his story by telling us that he is troubled by not knowing when he was born. Why is this fact so important to him?

2. List the turning points in Douglass' life. To what extent did his "take-charge" attitude create these turning points?

3. Douglass presents much of his narrative in a factual tone and avoids personal opinions, yet the story is full of emotion. How is this possible? Where do you find evidence of emotion?

4. What kind of hero is Douglass? Does his heroism come from his physical or mental state? Or does it come from both? Of the two types of heroes (physical or mental), which would he consider himself?

5. In Chapter II, Douglass expresses his belief that education will set him free. What does he mean by this? Is this essentially an optimistic view? If he could visit us today, do you think he would still hold this view?

6. Examine the films Roots and Glory, as well as music videos of Public Enemy; how do they portray slavery and black-white relationships in nineteenth-century America? Discuss the films and videos in terms of Douglass' Narrative.

7. Compare Douglass' depiction of the struggle of African Americans in white America with the narratives of such black writers as Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Alex Haley, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison. In what ways can Douglass' influence be seen in the works of later black writers?

8. Douglass' marriage to his white secretary in the later part of his life caused considerable discomfort among his white and black friends and acquaintances. Douglass had this to say about his marriage: "They would have no objections to my marrying a person much darker in complexion than myself, but to marry someone much lighter, and of the complexion of my father rather than my mother, was, in the popular eye, a shocking offense." To what extent have attitudes regarding interracial marriage changed? From his Narrative, what can you discern about his opinions regarding interracial marriage and/or procreation?

9. The interracial concerns and problems Douglass expressed still affect us today. How will these problems diminish? Consider a disunited and disenfranchised African-American population, alcoholism/drug addiction among African-Americans, and the matter of whites fearing that minorities will take their jobs away.

10. Various critics have placed Douglass' Narrative within the genres of Romanticism and also that of Realism. Does it belong to either category? Justify your claims.

11. The underlying assumption and philosophy of Douglass' Narrative is that humans can (and must) create their destiny. Comment on Douglass' philosophy, citing examples and illustrations.

12. Several times in his Narrative, Douglass expresses his view that slavery is bad for both whites and blacks. In what ways is slavery detrimental to the South?