Thursday, March 22, 2012

Research Paper on Frederick Douglass

Research Paper on Frederick Douglass

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
The notion of slavery had always been vital and delicate problem even long before the Civil War broke out. The abolitionists from the North strongly criticized the slaveholders’ policy of the South. Southerners used their own arguments, defending their position.

The name of Frederick Douglass is closely related to the notion of slavery and its abolition. He was a well-known leader and fighter against slavery and brutal treatment towards black people. The most important factor that influenced his anti-slavery position in the world is his own terrible experience: being a slave he experienced all the sufferings that were possible at that time. Only a person how has experienced something can judge about it and aim his efforts in order to change it – Douglass had an absolute right to fight and struggle against slavery. His narration, written in 1845, was said to be the most influential of all African-American books about slavery (Sheldon, 22). In order to present his views and to build the system of his arguments Douglass used the story of his own life, as he was born a slave, presumable from the white slave owner. This was a rather widespread practice of the white slaveholders, raping their slave women aiming at satisfying their sexual desires and at the same time increasing the number of their slaves. The author told us about his childhood, education and escape. What is really important, Douglass didn’t simply denounce the slavery in the South, he was aware of the fact, that the whole slavery system should be unacceptable for any society. “The slave narratives emerged from obscurity and became a major tool by which historians were able to open the world the slaves made-their folk life, religious expression, modes of resistance, and psychological survival”(Douglass, 13). Thus, this narration can not be considered a simple autobiographical story, this is rather a manifest against slavery, written by an educated enough former slave, who was able to see this problem, this phenomenon from the very inside. He had enough miseries and sorrow in his own life and he did his best to impart it to the readers. His main message was to struggle for triumph of justice and freedom.

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Douglass built his argumentation on the discrediting the main myths, fabricated around the notion of slavery. There were a number of them, supported by Northerners and Southerners and used for rationalization of the slavery existence. They found support for slavery in the Bible, talking about descendants of Ham – this named was said to mean “black” (Sheldon, 31). But Douglass argued, that the salve owners rather broke the laws from the Bible by their attitude to slaves. One of the strong arguments in favour to slavery was said to be economical stability, but according to Douglass there were more wealthy people in the North in comparison to the South. Besides, workers are more satisfied when working for money and supported by machines. Based on the example of the Great Britain, the author underlined, that abolishment of slavery can not influence negatively economy of a country. The British writer Rudyard Kipling wrote: “the white man’s burden” to colonize, civilize, and Christianize non-Europeans” (Sheldon, 36). Slaveholders also used this argument: they explained, that black people needed their care and control, because of their intellectually inferior position. Douglass wrote, that it is really impossible to find any advantages of slavery for black people, as they hardly could get the chance to study or to become more civilized; inferiority roots first of all from their being under slavery pressure, and not from their nationality.

It was also rather convenient for the slaveholders to associate the whole image of life in the South with slavery as an inalienable part of it. The cultural masterpiece – Gone with the Wind – was supposed to be a good example of this romantic image. But Douglass discredited this myth as well, pointing out, that first of all the, slaveholders were not the kind of people, like they were presented there; and secondly slaves could never be happy about the fact that they were slaves, their singing was always sad and rather like mourning, than like demonstration of joy. Douglass stated, that all these myths became so strong, that even some black people accepted them and believed in them.

Providing significant contra arguments to all these myths about slavery, Douglass managed to develop a rather strong position for slavery abolition. On one hand his reasoning could seem simply, but nevertheless, probably due to the fact the author had to go through slavery himself, his arguments are cogent and persuasive. This is evident, that this narration was and is able to have a strong influence both on people living in 1840s and nowadays. The ethical norms of the society, although changing in a way from one generation to the other, still base on the same principles. One of the main principles should be that of equality of all people, thus nobody should have the right to be in possession of another person, and there is no use to seek explanations for brutal and cruel attitude to other people in the cultural peculiarities of the country and not in the least in the Bible. The author proved both by his life and by the arguments and examples in his writing, that slavery can never be considered a norm in social relations and should be abolished.

Autobiographic style of narrative makes Douglass’s tale closer to the reader. Personal experience described by the author adds credibility to everything her writes. Douglass did a great job since he managed to tell the truth about the terrible reality of slavery to many people. His honest and detailed narration helps to recollect the picture of past events and not to forget the terrible truth about the slavery. Douglass describes different techniques, used by slaveholders in order to makes slaves quite and obedient. Keeping slaves ignorant was one of the main strategies used by slaveholders. Slaves did not know even their own age, like it happened with the author. He explains that most of the slaves “know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs” (Douglass 47). Keeping families apart was another strategy, which helped to keep slaves separated from each other. Not honoring family relationships slaveholders made their social structure weaker. They broke families and separated children from their parents. Children were simply sold away in order to never see their parent again. Douglass tells about his own grandmother, who saw many of her grandchildren sold away. The author himself knows very little about his mother. As he states, “for what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder development of the child’s affection towards its mother and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child” (Douglass 34). Old and ill slaves, who could not work, were left alone in the forest in order not to spend money and food on them.

Discrimination and inhuman attitude to slaves became normal during those times. Such an attitude was partially justified by the statement that slavery was a common practice and socially accepted institution. Some slaveholders stated that the Bible justified slavery, others believed that black people were not as intelligent as white people and slavery did not cause them any harm. Slaveholders described their slaveholding as “taking care’ of intellectually inferior Africans. Douglass’s book breaks this myth about care and protection. He very vividly demonstrates in his book that the institution of slavery brought black people nothing but humiliation. The book sheds light to the true nature of slavery and breaks a romantic myth about this institution. Douglass does not agree that institution of slavery is an integral part of peaceful and calm Southern life. Cruel attitude towards slaves became a norm during those times and slave owners did not see anything wrong in terrible things they did. Slavery was known as peculiar institution during those times. Using such labels slaveholders tried to justify their discrimination and inhumane attitudes towards other people. Douglass very vividly describes different means, used by slave owners in order to subjugate their slaves. In order to maintain order and make the work effective, slaveholders used whipping and even tortures.

Slave women were in even poor position than men. Along with beating, common for all slaveholders, slave women experienced another humiliation of rape. Very often slaveholders turned to rape not only in order to satisfy their sexual needs, but also in order to expand the number of slaves by making women pregnant.

Constant labor without any kind of medical care and regular beating made a usual routing of the life of slaves. Without enough food and clothes, this people spent their days working for their musters and did not receive anything in return. Slaves did not have anything. In some cases they did not have even the most necessary things, such as spoons, for example. Douglass describes how slaves had to eat with the help of the pieces of tree bark.

Frederick Douglass depicts the reality of slavery from inside and that is why his experience is very precious. The truth about terrible reality of slaves is discovered through personal narration of the author. The facts, which were hidden before finally became known by wide publicity. Romantic and idealistic image of slaves, singing songs while working on the plantations got another interpretations from Douglass. In his book he explains that slaves sung their songs not because they were happy. They tried to put all their grief and despair in their songs. Douglass breaks a romantic image of singing and happy slaves. He very vividly illustrates that song was the only way to express grief and sorrow, born by discrimination and inhuman attitude. In his book Frederick Douglass gives a lot of terrible facts and uncovers the truth about slavery. His descriptions make people think about terrible things, which had place in the past of the U.S. history. The author does not give his ideas about the possible means to change the situation. He leaves this question open and lets the readers to decide about the possible ways to correct the situation. Facts and descriptions given by the author speak louder than calls for actions. The author wants the readers to find those, who are guilty in the situation, and find out the possible ways to correct it.
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