No book except perhaps Uncle Tom’s Cabin had as powerful an impact on the abolitionist movement as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. But while Stowe wrote about imaginary characters, Douglass’s book is a record of his own remarkable life. Born a slave in 1818 on a plantation in Maryland, Douglass taught himself to read and write. In 1845, seven years after escaping to the North, he published Narrative, the first of three autobiographies. This book calmly but dramatically recounts the horrors and the accomplishments of his early years—the daily, casual brutality of the white masters; his painful efforts to educate himself; his decision to find freedom or die; and his harrowing but successful escape.
An astonishing orator and a skillful writer, Douglass became a newspaper editor, a political activist, and an eloquent spokesperson for the civil rights of African Americans. He lived through the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the beginning of segregation. He was celebrated internationally as the leading black intellectual of his day, and his story still resonates in ours.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
This is a book I finally decided I had to read following my last semester with American Literature. I learned relatively quickly that this is a book that is frequently referred to — and I needed to understand how it fit into all the other topics that were being discussed in my lit courses. I have been putting this one off for so long because I find the topic disconcerting. So when I finally picked it up and started reading I never would have guessed that I was about to find a new favorite book!
Frederick Douglass is an amazing man. His life and story are more than just engrossing — it is truly the solid foundation of history. And his ability with words simply makes this book live. From his first memories of slavery to his greatest orations this is a man that captivates readers and draws them in. He is a powerful speaker, and his surviving orations are as powerful and pertinent today as at the time of their first issue. But what I found most engrossing of this read was Douglass’ charisma that resonates throughout the book. This is a man that does more than simply define “The American Dream.” This is a man that turns that “American Dream” on its head. His humor, devotion, dedication, oratory skills, and intelligence redefined what it meant to be black in America — in a time when the blacks were still fettered in chains, both literal and figurative. But more than that — Douglass has a gift for giving life through the written and spoken word to what many of us today would like to consider a long dead topic.
Douglass’ portrayal of slavery is both honest and moving. He presents it in the light of the crime it was, and opens the eyes of readers to not only the horrific moral stain it carried — but to the lasting consequences that continue to haunt our society today. This work is still as insightful and significant a read today as it was when first penned. Douglass clearly and decisively identifies the consequences of slavery — and how those consequences festered and grew to impact our world more than a hundred years later.
But Douglass is not your run of the mill abolitionist. He also insists that the cure for the racial difficulties our world struggles with can only be cured through mutual effort. He suggests that the whites need to move beyond their perception of indoctrination, and see the black race for the great and influential men and women they are. And the black race needs to step forward and work as hard as they ever did as slaves to define themselves, for themselves, as the great people they truly are and can become.
This book is a powerful and positive read. It deals with many moral issues and demands that we need to continue to work — even today — on improving the racial relations defined in the past. Douglass envisions a world where the blacks are accepted as Americans, with all the rights and privileges they are entitled to in conjunction with all other Americans. He also suggests that this is not a road that can be paved with the effort of only one race. The barriers of master and slave, black and white, bond and free, must all be obliterated. And on their ruins we need to start over in building a world that is no longer defined through race, color, religion, or ethnic origin. Rather, we need to reconstruct a society built on the efforts, abilities, strengths, and greatness of men and women.
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