Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Throughout American history, the majority of the population, which was white, looked down upon any other “lesser” races. Unfortunately, African American slaves suffered greatly from these views; whether it was direct involvement in the facilitation of enslavement, the slave trade, or the support of a state where enslavement was encouraged. This caused the dehumanization of both slaves and their owners. In Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he writes about how slaves and slaveholders are dehumanized through his own firsthand experiences as a slave.

Douglass talks about how when he was young he was forcefully parted from his mother, parallel to what happened to almost all children that were born into slavery. “Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor”(340). This causes children to lose the potential for familial bonds.

The dehumanization of slaves started with the children, the lack of feeling love causing the children to not be able to love later in life. With this being said, when the mother is vacant from the child’s life, the child suffers from acute emotional abuse. “I had always lived with my grandmother on the outskirts of the plantation, where she was put to raise the children of the younger woman” (344). Douglass relates to not growing up with a mother because when he was young, she was moved to a plantation next to his, visiting him under the cover of night until she died.

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He wasn’t ever allowed to say goodbye to his own mother or go to her funeral, as slaveholders wouldn’t let their slaves experience how to deal with death and grieve properly. Douglass was essentially deprived of any family roots or lineage.

Slaves were put to work in the fields, mostly told to work from sunrise till sunset, never being given proper food or sleeping quarters. Another example of the slaves’ dehumanization was the mention of, “[F]ood… put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called like so many pig(s)…” (359). Slaveholders raised their slaves similar to farm animals. The children were the ones who ate first, given only a portion of necessary food that it was a race between them, for who would get the most. Children of slaves were raised uncivilized, eating a meal of boiled cornmeal mush off the ground without utensils. The white children were given the privilege of eating higher quality meals at a table, with utensils, showing the vast divide between the experiences of the two. Slaves were also not given proper sleeping quarters as, “There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be considered such, and none but the men and women had these” (346). Children were not given any bed covering. This shows that slaves had to work hard throughout the day, and were expected to sleep at night. However; in the harsh winter months it was almost impossible for slaves to sleep after the days work under such deplorable conditions.

The part of society slaveholders occupied in the South allowed acceptance to abuse other human beings just because of their skin color. They believed they were better than slaves in the social hierarchy. In Douglass’s own narrative he talks about how awful one of his own master’s were, “Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster” (342). Men who were slaveholders thought it was reasonable to beat another humans. These men were then called “monsters” in the eye of the slaves because slavery had dehumanized the slaveholders by having them treat other humans lesser and letting society call the shots on who deserves to be at the top of the social pyramid.

The slaveholders were very cruel, and they were able to escape consequences for many despicable things that most people in a different part of society wouldn’t be able to. For example, “Mrs. Hick’s, finding the girl slow to move… seized an oak stick… and with it broke the girl’s nose and breast bone, and thus ending her life” (358). Slaveholders got away with murder, because no slave would stand up against them, for they’d be severely punished; even risking their life.

In conclusion, Douglass speaks in his narrative of how slaves as well as slaveholders were dehumanized. Slaves were denied a chance for normal family relations and the nurturing that comes with it. Slaves were treated poorly as if they were not even a member of the human species. This being said, slaveholders were dehumanized as well in the process of slavery by becoming abusive, cruel, and murderous people with failure to answer for their unlawful behavior.

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. (2022, Apr 28). Retrieved from

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