Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass)

"I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the North, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears." 

"I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the North, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears." 

U.S.A. / 1845

Born in Maryland, USA, Mr. Douglass estimates his birth year as 1818. He credited this uncertainty to the fact that enslaved people knew as much about their birth date as horses. This-as well as many horrific revelations about the tenuous lives of the enslaved-was revealed in this seminal work. 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was written because Mr. Douglass was persuaded by northern abolitionists to tell his story of enslavement to advance their political anti-slavery cause. They insisted that a real-life narrative told in a literary style with real thematic elements, vibrant characterization, and intense details would really convince people that slavery was wrong, and that the "slaves" really were people. Mr. Douglass was cast as the man to complete this revolutionary task of humanizing himself and all other enslaved Black people in the South. 

In this excerpt, Douglass dispels the widespread myth that enslaved people were content with their suffering under the hands of brutal White slave-owners. Slave-owners and slavery apologists found any excuse they could to justify their evil actions, and so they crafted myths about the enslaved people to help assuage their own moral crises. 

By dispelling myths such as these, this novel helped to humanize the enslaved people and offer a more sympathetic reading of their unimaginable sufferings on plantations where violence, death, sexual abuse, familial destruction, and exhaustion were the norm.

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