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.
Fellowship Theme Icon

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 stronger than any thing I have experienced since. It is sometimes said that we slaves do not love and confide in each other. In answer to this assertion, I can say, I never loved any or confided in any people more than my fellow-slaves.” This fellowship brings Douglass comfort, and when he is on the run and unable to trust anyone, he suffers greatly. Conversely, by enslaving their fellow man, the slave owners fail to grasp the extent and importance of the communal fellowship that sustains the slaves.

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Fellowship ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fellowship appears in each chapter of The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fellowship Quotes in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

Below you will find the important quotes in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass related to the theme of Fellowship.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“The slaves selected to go to the Great House Farm, for the monthly allowance for themselves and their fellow-slaves, were peculiarly enthusiastic. While on their way, they would make the dense old woods, for miles around, reverberate with their wild songs, revealing at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness…I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Douglass gives a more detailed explanation of his master Lloyd's many properties, which included a home plantation ("the seat of government for the whole twenty farms") and over twenty other farms. Within this description, he also lists slaves' meager monthly and yearly allowances of a little food and clothing; the stark contrast is apparent although Douglass does not directly mention it. He does, however, mention the ways slaves would sing, vibrantly, as they went to the home plantation to collect their provisions and apparel. It is in these human voices, which reflected the "highest joy and deepest sadness," that Douglass locates the "horrible character of slavery." Douglass implies that the cruelty of enslavement can only be expressed in intangible, fleeting human voices and real, personal experiences, which are more removed from his contemporary white reader than the "volumes of philosophy" which Douglass mentions as well. 


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“I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

After Douglass reflects on the singing which enlivened slaves' walks to the home plantation on allowance day, he briefly stops recounting his experiences in the South to acknowledge the setting in which he writes: the North. He rightly accuses Northerners of misinterpreting slaves' songs; as Douglass explains, slaves do not sing when they are happy, but rather when are unhappy and isolated. Their songs are akin to the songs a man might make while alone on an island; they are communal expressions of sadness and alienation. By reinterpreting slaves' singing, Douglass continues to advocate that Northerners forget their old beliefs about slaves and adopt truer, and often more negative, views of slaves' lives. By changing the ways Northerners perceive little daily events such as songs, Douglass may change the way they understand slavery as a whole. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

“As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Columbian Orator
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

As Douglass continues to reflect on the way The Columbian Orator influenced his development, he more directly articulates the negative aspects of realizing the truth about his position (his "wretched condition") as a slave. After reading the work, had a more refined perspective, but still lacked the political or social means to improve his circumstance. He began to have a liminal sort of existence; he was still a slave, but he saw the ignorance (what he called the "stupidity") of his "fellow" slaves, which prevented him from fully belonging to their community. He even wished he was a "beast," feeling that it would be better to live ignorant of the full evils of his position than to be aware of them and still unable to change them.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“at this time, this most needful time, the time for the exercise of that tenderness and affection which children only can exercise towards a declining parent—my poor old grandmother, the devoted mother of twelve children, is left all alone, in yonder little hut, before a few dim embers. She stands—she sits—she staggers—she falls—she groans—she dies—and there are none of her children or grandchildren present, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death, or to place beneath the sod her fallen remains. Will not a righteous God visit for these things?”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Betsy Bailey
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after Douglass' first master dies, his children die as well, which causes all of his slaves to be divided from each other and their familial bonds, "in the hands of strangers." Douglass implies that his grandmother is treated the worst, however; she is sent to a desolate hut in the woods, to supposedly provide for herself for the rest of her days. Just as her present owners fail to acknowledge her present state (she has no hope of caring for herself, in her enfeebled condition), they also fail to recognize her prior experiences. She not only took care of her master throughout his life, but she also brought him a fair portion of his wealth: her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

Douglass can only imagine how his "poor old" grandmother spent her last moments in "yonder little hut." He briefly lists the possibilities ("she stands—she sits—she staggers—she falls—she groans—she dies"), in order to fictionally be present with his grandmother, and to give at least a posthumous audience to her isolated suffering. Once again he appeals to the justice and truth of God, and wonders how he could allow such things to take place.

Chapter 10 Quotes

“I held my Sabbath school at the house of a free colored man, whose name I deem it imprudent to mention; for should it be known, it might embarrass him greatly, though the crime of holding the school was committed ten years ago. I had at one time over forty scholars, and those of the right sort, ardently desiring to learn…I look back to those Sundays with an amount of pleasure not to be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

While working for Freeland, Douglass begins to share his literary experience (and the knowledge and freedom which these experiences provide him) with his "dear fellow-slaves." This, more than any other item Douglass has shared, most effectively captures how Douglass's ability to read and write is not exceptional, and all slaves deserve the treatment which Douglass receives as a freed man.

Yet, even as Douglass reveals the events of this "Sabbath school" (a school which spreads Douglass's gifts with others in Christian fellowship), Douglass captures the still-present need for secrecy. He reluctantly refrains from revealing the freed man who hosted these literary sessions (despite his usual commitment to total truth), emphasizing how slaves are still struggling under social structures which restrain the improvement of their circumstance.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“The [Liberator] paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds—its scathing denunciations of slaveholders—its faithful exposures of slavery—and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution—sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Following his move to New Bedford, Douglass has another literary discovery: The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper. Just as The Columbian Orator spurred Douglass's individual development and honed his personal beliefs against slavery, The Liberator fosters Douglass's impulse to support and participate in the abolitionist movement. First, reading brought personal convictions to Douglass; now, it allows him to share in the collective convictions which encouraged him to write this narrative at all. Finally, we see literature's power to connect individuals in the pursuit of justice -- the very power which Douglass is relying on in this narrative. Finally, Douglass's sympathy for the fellowship of all slaves merges with the broader social project and progress of the abolitionist movement.

Appendix Quotes

“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

Douglass provides an Appendix here in order to clarify certain points which he feels he may have misrepresented in his narrative. Firstly, he comments on religion; as a Christian man himself, Douglass clarifies that he is not against Christianity, but is only opposed to the hypocritical form of Christianity common among slaveowners. After the narrative proper, Douglass directly praises Christian doctrine itself -- as "good, pure, and holy," and as essential to life. He thus aligns his narrative with the Christian audience from the North, allying himself to his likely audience through the medium of religion, while also avoiding any criticisms that he is "unchristian" because of his condemnation of religious slaveowners. Indeed, this critique of people who twist and corrupt religion for their own cruel purposes is one of the most enduring lessons of Douglass's narrative.