Frederick Douglass wrote three autobiographies during his life. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave , written in 1845, is, perhaps, the most famous. The others were My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised 1892).
Written as a response to those that doubted that such an intelligent and well-spoken man could have ever been a slave, Narrative tells about the early life of Frederick Douglass (b. 1818 – d.1895), how he learned to read and write and how he acquired the skills necessary to escape and prosper in the North after he escaped.
Douglass was a young man when this book was published (aged 27) so there is not a lot of detail about his life as a free man (with the caveat of being an escaped slave living the constant fear of being kidnapped and returned to slavery)…
In one bone-chilling episode after another, Douglass describes firsthand the violent, dehumanizing, disgusting experience of slave and master.
One of the things that Frederick Douglass points out that is so relevant today is the hypocrisy of organized religion. “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”
Something that I truly admired was his commitment to becoming educated. It was against the law to teach a slave to read because, obviously, slave owners didn’t want them to realize how horrible their situations were (as if they couldn’t figure that out). For Douglass, education was key to getting out of his situation, and he understood that and acted on it. It is truly heartbreaking to read about the methods he had to resort to, just in order to learn to read. Douglass’ description of his once kind mistress and her transformation into hardened slave owner presents the other side of the tragedy most vividly.
It required amazing strength, courage, and intelligence to live the life of Frederick Douglass. Through his writing, he, and his humanity, continues to be truly amazing. It is sad to think that when you have nothing to lose, you risk everything, including your life. That, to me, is where this book comes from.