My bondage and my freedom


Pd: 7


Frederick Douglass’s “My bondage and my freedom” explains the cruelties of slavery during the mid 1800’s. This novel is about Douglass’s life and how he escaped from slavery. Being a slave most of his life, Douglass experienced the cruelties of slavery. He has come across many obstacles in his life and observed the characteristics of and tactics that slave owners use to control their slaves. In this novel Douglass shows how the slaveholders perpetuate slavery by keeping their slaves ignorant of their past and by depriving them of knowledge and education and that even with knowledge a slave’s path to freedom is not an easy one.


Douglass explains the strategies and procedures by which whites gain and keep power over blacks since their birth. “Make a man a slave, and you rob him of moral responsibility. Freedom of choice is the essence of all accountability.” said Frederick Douglass. This quote explains the fact that making a man a slave deprives him of his moral responsibility, which will take away from him the freedom of choice. In this novel, Douglass shows how white slave owners perpetuate slavery by keeping their slaves ignorant of their past. During the time Douglass was writing, many people believed that slavery was a natural state of being for African Americans. They also believed that blacks were inherently incapable of participating in social society and thus should be kept as workers for whites who are considered to be superior. Slave owners keep slaves ignorant of basic facts about themselves, such as their birth date or their parent name. Such ignorance robs children of their sense of individual identity, which will make them a perfect slave for the owner.


As the slave children grew older, slave owners deprive them from learning how to read and write, as literacy would give them a sense of self sufficiency and capability. “Now, if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” By Hugh Auld (a slave owner in Baltimore) pg (114). This quote is said to Sophia Auld (wife of Hugh Auld) when her husband Hugh Auld realizes that she is teaching Douglass how to read. Hugh Auld says that if the slaves are taught to read they would loathe their masters and eventually go against them. He also says that would become unmanageable and they would be of no use to their masters thus become unfit to be a slave. To this Douglass says “Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid from my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master,” pg (116). In this quote Douglass is saying that even though he lost the kindness that he received from Sophia Auld, he is happy by the invaluable knowledge that he gained from his master Hugh Auld. Douglass notices that Auld’s have revealed the strategy by which whites manage to keep blacks as slaves and by which blacks might free themselves. It is from the Auld’s that Douglass learns that knowledge is the only way for a slave to gain his freedom. Douglass provides his own self-education as the primary means by which he is able to free himself, and use it as his greatest tool to work for the freedom of all slaves. Knowledge helps slaves to articulate the injustice of slavery to themselves and others, and helps them to recognize themselves as men rather than slaves. Slave owners such as Hugh Auld understand that literacy keep blacks as slaves.


Even with the knowledge and education a slave’s path to freedom is not an easy one, because knowledge only improves a slave’s condition mentally and not physically or socially. Slave owners have better social status and physical conditions than their slaves, thus helping them enhance their control over their slaves and lowering the possibilities for a slave to gain freedom. “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed