Frederick Douglass was born in 1818? (like many slaves he was unsure of his exact date of birth) in Tuckahoe, Maryland and died on February 20, 1895, Washington D.C. As one of the main precursors of Afro-American writing he was a self-taught scholar and a self-made man par excellence for his time. He was the author of the “Narrative”, “My Bondage and My Freedom” and essays on slavery while his Narrative on his real life incidents is his masterpiece. Later after his emancipation Frederick Douglass became a social reformer, orator and statesman and the charismatic leader of the abolitionist movement.
Like all slave narratives Douglass’ was no exception and begins with the following lines: “I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot County”. The story portrays his personal experiences, struggles and his unfortunate daily encounters with his masters and expresses the story’s hopeful message that there would be hope in the future. In the first few chapters he gives ample accounts of the lives of other slaves in the Great Farm House describing in a clear engaging manner the brutality, starvation and the dehumanization of these people under servitude. He has used these themes to a stunning effect to illustrate and condemn the abominable practice of slavery. Though these real life incidents were written very much later after his emancipation they are told convincingly and emotionally by Douglass who conveys his pathos and sympathy for his brothers under bondage. He begins with a tableau of shocking violence, when as a young boy he watched the whipping of his aunt by the master that reflected the white people’s sordid savagery who did not accept slaves as genuinely human. They are also filled with extreme anger and incomprehension with the dehumanization of the whole system and structure of slavery.
This autobiographical account in itself is written in a language easily readable with just eleven chapters filled with details tracing his life as a young boy and ultimately a self emancipated adult. For the epoch it was a daring work and is considered even today as one of the masterpieces of this genre. The book also outlines the literary elements of the story, which is a first-person recounting of the life of a slave and these anecdotes were very popular with the Northern white population who was more or less against this cruel institution. These writings in general greatly influenced writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe and her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Later Mark Twain’s masterpiece “Huck Finn” with the colorful character of the fugitive slave Jim who was directly inspired by these people who ran away from the South seeking freedom in the North. These slave narratives were written with a certain purpose for they were meant to depict and describe the evils of slavery that existed in the South of the United States. They were also meant to touch and inform certain of the Northern audience who were skeptic of the existence of this barbarian institution.
This literary form which grew out of the written records of enslaved Africans in the United States were prefaced by white abolitionists to prove the authenticity of their writings for many refused to believe and accept that black people could read and write. They were published in the 18th century by white abolitionists and soon became a mainstay of African American literature.