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Chapter 8

The color-coded boxes under "Analysis & Themes" below make it easy to track the themes throughout the work. Each color corresponds to one of the themes explained in the Themes section of this LitChart.

Summary


Analysis & Themes


When Douglass is roughly ten or eleven, his old master, Captain Anthony, dies. Douglass is summoned back to the plantation he was born on, so that Anthony’s children can divide up his property. At the valuation, slaves young and old are ranked alongside livestock. The humiliation of being inspected like an animal makes Douglass further detest the way slavery corrupts both slave and master.

Douglass’s experience at the valuation represents yet another facet of the degradation slaves must tolerate. Douglass’s humiliation shows that slaves are very much aware of their circumstances, in the ways the animals they are equated to are not.

 

After being inspected, the slaves are to be divided among Anthony’s heirs. Their futures will be determined by this moment, over which they have no control, and they may be separated from their friends and family. The slaves fear being taken by Anthony’s son, Andrew, who is a cruel drunkard.

The slaves’ anguish is multiplied—and their status as human beings further diminished—by the fact that they have no control over their own fates.

 

Because Douglass knows what it is like to be treated kindly, the evaluation makes him even more anxious than his fellow slaves. Fortunately, he is not passed to Andrew, as he feared. He thanks providence that he is assigned to Mrs. Lucretia Auld. He will be sent back to Baltimore to live with Master Hugh and his family. Douglass returns to Baltimore after a psychologically taxing month on the plantation.

Once again, Douglass’s expanded knowledge proves to be somewhat of a burden. Throughout the narrative Douglass shows his own Christian faith even as he endures the horrors of slavery. Here he thanks providence, or God, when he ends up with Lucretia. Douglass's own Christian faith stands in stark contrast to the hypocritical faith of slave owners, who practice and profit from a cruelty that their religion does not support.

 

Shortly after Douglass returns to Baltimore, his mistress, Lucretia, dies. Soon after, Master Andrew dies as well. The masters’ slaves are passed along to strangers; none is set free. Douglass is disgusted by the way his grandmother is treated: after serving her master for his entire lifetime, she is simply passed into the hands of strangers without a word of gratitude. Her new owners do not find her useful, and she is sent out in the woods to live alone. Douglass laments that his grandmother was forced to finish her life suffering in loneliness, mourning the loss of her children and grandchildren. After imagining the horror his grandmother faces, Douglass asks, “Will not a righteous God visit for these things?”

Douglass’s grandmother’s experience shows the way that slavery breaks down the basic principles of reciprocity that should govern human interactions. The manifest injustice of his grandmother’s fate so distresses Douglass that he questions the power that governs the universe. Douglass's cry to God mirrors the cries of other afflicted people's in the Bible (for instance the Jews in Egypt).

 

Mrs. Lucretia’s husband, Thomas, remarries a woman named Rowena Hamilton. Thomas and Hugh have a falling-out, and as a consequence, Douglass is taken from Hugh and sent to live with Thomas in St. Michael’s, a town near his birthplace in rural Maryland. Douglass feels he has little to lose from this change, because owning slaves has made Hugh and Sophia into cruel people, but he laments having to leave the young boys he befriended in Baltimore. Douglass also regrets not attempting to escape before he was transferred to Thomas, because it is easier to escape the city than the country. However, on his way to St. Michael’s, he studies the countryside and transportation and resolves to make an attempt to escape.

This transition in Douglass’s life recalls his earlier move to Baltimore: his situation is abysmal, but he is persistently optimistic about its potential to improve. For the first time, however, Douglass has actually developed attachments to the people who surround him—the young boys of Baltimore. Douglass's careful observation during the train trip shows that he never passes up an opportunity to educate himself, and uses his journey to the country to improve his understanding of an escape route.