Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Quick (or not so quick) Note:

It’s been very difficult to find time to blog recently, purely because I have so much work to do at university. This is going off on a slight tangent from my review now, but just in case any of you are at that stage where you need to start thinking about universities and course choices at those universities, I should probably give you a heads up…

Do not underestimate the amount of reading that you will be expected to do on an English Literature course.

Honestly. I know that it sounds obvious and if you have already decided to take an English degree, then you will most likely be aware of the fact that the course literally demands you to read an awful lot. But I have to put it out there just in case your perception of “an awful lot” is warped.

For slow readers like myself, the reading I am set can be (and most of the time it is) very challenging. I am expected to read about two novels/novellas per week, alongside a collection of about 5 to 6 poems in addition to 1-2 critical theory essays on my course. Sometimes, this is only for one module, not all of them. So I can be given at least triple that amount in a week!

It is definitely tiring, but if you love literature and you love reading, then it isn’t always a burden and it is very rewarding – particularly when you get to read narratives like the one that I’m about to review…

Hello everyone!

Today I’m going to be reviewing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. It is an autobiographical narrative, fairly short, but absolutely packed with things that we can all learn from.

Frederick Douglass was an american slave. In the narrative, we follow his journey from slave owner to slave owner, from plantation to plantation, passed around like a piece of property, whipped and beaten like a piece of meat and worked like a machine. He was debased, subjected to slander practically everyday of his life, denied basic human rights, made to starve, forbidden to gain the knowledge that would eventually unlock the door to his freedom. The writing is super, super emotional and every step of his journey will move you.

Slavery is always a tricky topic to write about, to discuss, to depict, and even that is an understatement in itself. I find that many people don’t fully understand what slavery actually meant, what it entailed or how it affected those who were, unfortunately, subjected to it. This narrative is a real story, written by a real slave – and it will break your heart. People like Frederick Douglass fought long and hard and endured so much pain so that people of colour could be free and equal. Thinking back to what my ancestors had to suffer through, so that I could find myself sitting here at university, typing on this laptop with the world at my feet makes me even more thankful for my achievements in life – because none of what I have ever done would have been possible if not for them.

Douglass is particularly graphic in the images he presents us of slavery in the text. Usually I would highlight this as a point of caution, but there just isn’t a way of sugar coating slavery – it wouldn’t be desirable to do so anyway. Slavery was as savage and brutal as Douglass depicts it in this text, if not even worse than and people need to know about it. It seems odd to say that I enjoyed this narrative, but in many ways, I thought it was such a powerful text that it is impossible not to give it so much credit.

I think that what I most admired about this book was the fact that it was written by a slave who had freed himself, taught himself to read and write, fought mentally for years and years to gain freedom and went on not just to relish in his own freedom, but to do as much as he could to assist in the abolitionist movement. The text is inspiring. Nobody anywhere, of any distinction, should have to suffer through what he did. But it’s a blessing that we are able to read narratives like his now, to remind us of the fact that the world has come such a long way.

But we still have so much farther to go. This narrative really makes you think about the inequality within our world and how people, of all distinctions (not just race) have had to suffer. It is more than unfair.

I would recommend this narrative to everybody, even if you don’t think it will be your cup of tea. It’s narratives like this that are the real power in literature and I am super, super glad that I got to read this myself.

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