The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

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.
Truth and Justice Theme Icon

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, one moment defines Douglass’s veneration of truth: after teaching himself to read, Douglass pores over an anti-slavery book called The Columbian Orator and concludes that “the moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder.” The value Douglass places on truthfulness becomes still clearer when he reveals that it pains him to be unable to describe the facts of his escape in meaningful detail (even though he must keep it secret in order to protect those who helped him escape).

The significance of Douglass’s ability to write truthfully should not be underestimated. One of the many injustices of slavery that Douglass recounts is the inability to speak truthfully, which seems like it should be a basic human entitlement. While enslaved, he and other slaves would be punished severely for simply speaking honestly about the discomfort of their situations. Douglass’s freedom not only affords him an escape from these miserable conditions, but also an opportunity for honest, public reflection on the miseries he endured.

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Truth and Justice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Truth and Justice 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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Truth and Justice 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 Truth and Justice.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“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:

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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 Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Colonel Edward Lloyd, Old Barney and Young Barney
Related Symbols: Old Barney and Young Barney
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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“…slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

“I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man… The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering… and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker), Hugh Auld, Sophia Auld
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

On reading The Columbian Orator: “The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder.”

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

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“The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery.”

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

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“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:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

“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:

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“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:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

“The impression which I had received respecting the character and condition of the people of the north, I found to be singularly erroneous. I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at the north, compared with what were enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south…The people looked more able, stronger, healthier, and happier, than those of Maryland. I was for once made glad by a view of extreme wealth, without being saddened by seeing extreme poverty.”

Related Characters: Frederick Douglass (speaker)
Page Number: 66-67
Explanation and Analysis:

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“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:

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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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.