The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

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Themes and Colors
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
The Inexpressibility of Enslavement Theme Icon
Fellowship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is full of blistering critiques of slave owners who feign religious piety. Douglass’s experience often shows that the white southerners who participate most zealously in religious activities are often the same ones who treat slaves most inhumanely. These reprehensible people are quick to condemn slaves for the slightest violations of biblical principles, but are all too willing to twist scripture into justifying their own horrifyingly irreligious acts. For…

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Douglass writes, “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man.”…

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Douglass’s autobiography is created out of the belief that exposing the truth will eventually bring about justice. To Douglass, a straightforward depiction of the true nature of slavery is one of the most effective ways to combat the injustice of the institution. His story is delivered matter-of-factly, and Douglass rightly judges that he doesn’t need to embellish or editorialize on his story in order to persuade readers of the horrors of slavery. In the text…

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Douglass’s commentary throughout the book suggests that someone who has the fortune never to be enslaved can never truly understand slavery. The hardship of slavery is inexpressible. For example, when recounting his escape, Douglass writes, “I say, let him be placed in this most trying situation,—the situation in which I was placed,—then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate the hardships of, and know how to sympathize with, the toil-worn and whip-scarred fugitive slave.”…

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Slave owners do everything they can to undermine any basic ties of kinship that could unite their slaves. Families are broken up; much to Douglass’s dismay, he barely gets to know his mother, Harriet Bailey, and his siblings are utterly alienated from him. However, in spite of their masters’ cruel designs, slaves develop profound attachments to one another: writes Douglass, “I was…somewhat indebted to the society of my fellow-slaves…I loved them with a love…

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