The Narrative of Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass

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The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Analysis

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.
The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders Theme Icon

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 example, during Douglass’s time at St. Michael’s, a white man named Mr. Wilson starts up a Sabbath school designed to teach slaves how to read the New Testament. This reading group is violently broken up by Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, two men who led classes to teach scripture to whites, on the grounds that they don't want slaves to learn to read at all. One of Douglass’s masters, Thomas Auld, even quotes scripture to justify giving a brutal whipping to a crippled woman: “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

While this hypocrisy is extraordinarily harmful to the slaves themselves, it is also damaging to the masters. Religious slaveholders believe they have divine moral sanction for the atrocities they perpetuate, which further compromises their already-diminished ability to discern right from wrong and encourages them to sink to even more reprehensible depths. For example, male slaveholders rape their female slaves and sell their own children into slavery, all while nominally condemning such actions through their religious devotion. By rationalizing such actions with illogical religious workarounds, the slaveholders’ moral reasoning deteriorates even further, even faster. Throughout the autobiography, Douglass uses ironic language to condemn the two-faced “piety” of his oppressors. However, in an appendix to the book, he is careful to clarify that he objects not to Christianity proper, but to what he calls the “slaveholding religion,” which uses Christianity to justify atrocities. In fact, Douglass himself appears to possess a great deal of faith in a more humane Christianity; he writes, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.” Ultimately, through his narrative Douglass is making the case that slavery is incompatible with true Christianity, and in doing so making the case against slavery on religious grounds.

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The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders ThemeTracker

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The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders 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 The Self-Destructive Hypocrisy of Christian Slaveholders.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

On watching Captain Anthony whip Aunt Hester: “I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood- stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Captain Anthony, Aunt Hester
Related Symbols: The Whipping of Aunt Hester
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

On Old Barney and Young Barney: “No excuse could shield them, if the colonel only suspected any want of attention to his horses—a supposition which he frequently indulged, and one which, of course, made the office of old and young Barney a very trying one. They never knew when they were safe from punishment. They were frequently whipped when least deserving, and escaped whipping when most deserving it.”

Related Symbols: Old Barney and Young Barney
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

“I speak advisedly when I say this,—that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Symbols: Demby
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“The ties that ordinarily bind children to their homes were all suspended in my case. I found no severe trial in my departure. My home was charmless; it was not home to me; on parting from it, I could not feel that I was leaving any thing which I could have enjoyed by staying…I looked for home elsewhere, and was confident of finding none which I should relish less than the one which I was leaving.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

On Sophia Auld’s transformation of character: “But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Sophia Auld
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination…at this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

“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
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

“A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay mouldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that mistress and her husband [Rowena Hamilton and Thomas Auld] would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store!”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Captain Thomas Auld, Rowena Hamilton
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

“In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion…if it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Captain Thomas Auld
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

“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
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

“For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
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)
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis: