Fredrick Douglass

It is in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, that Douglass informs the reader not only of “how a man is mentally made a slave; you also see how a slave is mentally made a man” (75). Douglass informs the readers that slaves were often separated from their family members, by their slave owners because owners felt; slaves who had relationships would be a greater threat together than they would be if they were separated. In this novel, Douglass addresses the significance of the relationships that existed between slaves and their loved ones; he also shows how the absence of these relationships affected the slave’s state of mind and helped contribute to the formation of a slave’s identity.
Slave owners enforced the separation of slaves from their friends and families at birth. Slave owners feared that if they allowed relationships to develop between slaves they would run the risk of slaves uniting and planning a revolution. Therefore, “frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it…” (20). The repercussions of a slave defending their child if something dangerous occurred would put both the slave and the slave owner’s life in danger. A slave would be whipped severely and possibly sold for putting his or her hands on a white man; and a slave can become overwhelmed with anger and strike a slave owner until he is dead.

Douglass says,” he never enjoyed to any considerable extent, his mother’s soothing presence, or her tender and watchful care…” (20). The love a mother has for her child cannot be replaced. Douglass states, “he received the tidings of his mother’s death with much the same emotions he should have probably felt at the death of a stranger” (20). The simple things that are so common to children, such as a mother’s affection, were ripped away from Douglass. Friends and family were a secure way for slaves to escape the feelings of pain that was left by enslavement. If slaves were able to form these kinds of relationships then their emotional state would have been improved a great deal considering their dreary circumstances.
Douglass spoke often of planning to escape but had trouble following through with his plans. It was not until Douglass developed trusting friendships with fellow slaves that he was finally prepared to proceed with his plan to escape. “My fellow slaves were dear to me. I was anxious to have them participate with me in this…” (89). Unfortunately, slave owners heard about Douglass and his friends plan to escape and seized them, jailed them and finally separated them. “We were resolved to succeed or fail together…” (94). Together they were prepared for anything that may come ahead except separation. They had developed relationships that they did not want to be broken. “Our greatest concern was about being separated we dreaded that more than any thing this side of death” (94). Their separation caused Douglass a great deal of pain “…leaving me all alone. I regarded this separation as a final one. It caused me more pain than any thing else in the whole transaction” (94). This incident proved that slaves who have relationships with other slaves could conspire to do just about anything. The separation in the end caused personal pain among each slave and was a warning to other slaves who thought about running away.

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In Douglass’ narrative he shows the reader why ties between slaves and their friends and families were so important. Even if the slaves were not blood related they bonded like a family because of the physical and mental experiences they endured together. “We are linked and interlinked with each other…I never loved any or confided in any people more than my fellow-slaves, and I believe we would have died for each other… We never moved separately. We were one; and as much so by our tempers and dispositions, as by the mutual hardships to which we were necessarily subjected by our condition as slaves” (89). It is in this statement that you see why it was important that Douglass “…was not willing to cherish his determination alone” (89). He wanted his friends and family to cherish the same freedom he was planning to achieve. The relationships that the slaves developed allowed them to work together “as one” (89) and to set their minds to achieve freedom, something they all deserved in return because of their “conditions as slaves” (89).
The separation from families and friends affects a slave’s identity. An example of this is revealed through the relationship Douglass had with his mother. Douglass never had an opportunity to have a loving, supportive, and caring mother as many of us do. Douglass’ absence from the love of a mother played a crucial part developing him into the man that he was. Douglass also shows the emotional effects that slavery and the loss of loved ones had on slaves. The absence of loved ones left many slaves lonely and unable to adapt to their situation, leaving many slaves doing just about anything to reach freedom. The slaves identities were consequently, altered by slave owners’ insecurities with the formation of slave relationships. Because of the lack of meaningful relationships, the slaves’ identity’s were identities of which the slave owners saw fit and no one else.


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