Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself by Frederick Douglass is the most significant book among a hundred of American slave narratives. In this book Frederick Douglass reveals the story of his life (which he started as a slave and finished as orator, politician, journalist, and one of the greatest fighters for the slavery abolition) from his birth up to his escape from slavery. The most important motive of this metamorphose was his understanding of the importance to learn reading and writing, which runs through the entire book.
The Narrative deals with the description of the life of a slave with its unfairness and even horrors. Douglass reveals not only events of his life, but he expresses his attitude towards life and inserts his thoughts and wishes, the book starts with his reflection of the date of birth, for slaves never knew that: “slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs” (Douglass 39). So Douglass depicts the hardness of his childhood, with little sparkles of joy, then the book reveals the severe time of his youth and hard work while his being slave. After a little while he succeeds to escape from the slavery, but, it is very significant, he doesn’t give detailed description of his escape, in order to protect his helpers and to keep in secret this way so that others could use it as well: “…what means I adopted, – what direction I travelled… I must leave unexplained” (Douglass 101). And, finally, the narration is closed with the description of Douglass free life and the start of his anti-slavery activities: “… I have been engaged in pleading the cause of my brethren…” (Douglass 109).
As mentioned above one of the main ideas of the Narrative is the importance of knowledge for obtaining freedom. For even a want of knowledge of one’s date of birth was a crime for slave, “evidence of a restless spirit” which was to be suppressed (Douglass 39). The little joy of his slavery childhood mentioned above, which became a crucial moment and turning point of his life, was his learning to read, when Mrs. Auld “very kindly commenced to teach” him (Douglass 62). And it was the time when Douglass understood the importance of his learning by overhearing his master words that if a slave can read and knows at least something but obeying his master, he would “at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master” and it would “make him discontent and unhappy” (Douglass 62). Thus, Douglass understands that reading can give him the necessary knowledge, some opportunities to gain his freedom, restore his human dignity. He finds the way to learn himself and afterwards even to teach his friends reading, so that they could find their own opportunities. And he was right, it was reading that made him know a lot of things, it helped him to become free and aware of the struggle for emancipation from slavery.
Thus, the Narrative reveals the exceptional importance of knowledge in the struggle for one’s freedom, for without ability to read and to write Douglass could never plead for slavery abolition with so great success. His knowledge made it possible for him to write this narrative and a lot of different works, which made it possible for others to be aware of the whole situation and, finally, this all made it possible to obtain abolition of slavery in the United States.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written By Himself With Related Documents. With Introduction By David Blight. Bedford: St. Martins, 2002