The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

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Edward Covey Character Analysis

A farmer renowned for his ability to “break” disobedient slaves. He cannot afford to own many slaves himself, so other masters will lease him their slaves in exchange for him “breaking” them. Covey uses deceit to ensure that slaves are fearful and hardworking. Thomas Auld sends Douglass to work for him for a year because Douglass is difficult to control. Douglass’s first six months with Covey are miserable, but Douglass then stands up to Covey and is never whipped again.

Edward Covey Quotes in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

The The Narrative of Frederick Douglass quotes below are all either spoken by Edward Covey or refer to Edward Covey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Narrative of Frederick Douglass published in 1995.
Chapter 10 Quotes

“If at any one time of my life more than another, I was made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the first six months of my stay with Mr. Covey…I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Edward Covey
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Douglass then works as a field hand for Mr. Covey, his most brutal master yet. Under Covey's demanding, and often furtive, watch, Douglass and his fellow slaves are relegated to a life of "work, work, work." Douglass claims that even his innate intellectual curiosity is extinguished under this man's control, as Douglass loses his passion for literacy also with his optimistic outlook. Furthermore, he feels himself fundamentally broken, transformed from a man into a "brute" -- essentially experiencing the underlying project of slavery itself (the dehumanization of an entire race of people). Yet Douglass also describes how, during this period of his life, he would often deliver "an apostrophe to the moving multitude of ships" -- eloquent declarations about freedom and bondage that serve as tribute to his enduring human spirit. 

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“This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood…My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Edward Covey
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Douglass experiences a "glorious resurrection ... to the heaven of freedom" during his time under Mr. Covey's watch. One hot August afternoon, at the Biblically significant time of 3pm (the same time of Christ's crucifixion), Douglass finally loses his physical strength. When he is whipped by Mr. Covey, as expected, he decides to complain to his master about Mr. Covey's behavior -- which he later does. On his way back from his master's house (his journey after complaining to his master), Douglass receives a superstitious root from the slave Sandy Jenkins. The root seems to prevent Douglass from being beaten; as Douglass carries it, Mr. Covey speaks to him kindly. Then, the next day, when Mr. Covey attempts to whip Douglass, Douglass engages in a physical combat with Mr. Covey.

Douglass successfully fights Covey off; they brawl, and Covey does not whip Douglass as he intends to do. With this physical victory, Douglass has reclaimed his "manhood." He is a slave in "form," but not in "fact." He has taken one step towards freedom, and this progression begins to suggest how complicated and difficult the process to attaining freedom must be -- it doesn't just mean physically escaping the South, but also rebuilding one's identity as a human being in full possession of one's self.

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Edward Covey Character Timeline in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

The timeline below shows where the character Edward Covey appears in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
...whippings fail. Thomas decides to lend Douglass for a year to a farmer named Edward Covey, who is known for his ability to break slaves. Douglass is once again glad to... (full context)
Chapter 10
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...January 1st, 1833, Douglass leaves Master Thomas’s to work as a field hand for Mr. Covey. Douglass’s city upbringing makes him unfit for this labor. In the first few days, Covey... (full context)
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
During Douglass’s first six months living with Covey, he was whipped roughly once a week. Covey works his slaves from before dawn till... (full context)
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Covey’s sinister powers of deception also extend into his religious practice. He prays frequently, but only... (full context)
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
Covey is a poor man, who can only afford to own one slave (he “rents” the... (full context)
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Douglass is broken by his six months with Covey. He is forced to work in every weather condition, no matter how hot or cold.... (full context)
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
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Covey’s house is on the Chesapeake Bay, and Douglass’s regular sight of the far-ranging ships in... (full context)
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
While fanning wheat for Covey in August of 1833, Douglass collapses from heat exhaustion and is unable to continue working.... (full context)
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Fellowship Theme Icon
Douglass spends the night in St. Michael’s, and returns to Covey’s the next day. He sees Covey running out to whip him and successfully hides in... (full context)
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
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The next day, Sunday, Douglass returns to Covey’s carrying the root on his right side. On his way back, he passes Covey, who... (full context)
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The Inexpressibility of Enslavement Theme Icon
The fight with Covey renews Douglass’s self-confidence and his desire to be free, and he experiences a satisfaction that... (full context)
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Douglass is at first surprised that Covey doesn’t have him whipped by a constable. Douglass theorizes that Covey doesn’t want to lose... (full context)
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Douglass’s year of service to Mr. Covey ends on Christmas Day of 1833. Slaves are given the days between Christmas and New... (full context)
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
...with William Freeland, who lives near St. Michael’s. Freeland is a more honorable man than Covey, and does not deceive his slaves. Douglass is also relieved that Freeland does not try... (full context)
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
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Fellowship Theme Icon
Mr. Freeland treats Douglass more fairly than Covey did, giving his slaves both enough to eat and enough time to eat. Freeland himself... (full context)