Fredrick Douglass was an African-American statesman, orator, writer, and social reformer. Douglass became a leader of the abolitionist movement after fleeing from slavery. He became popular because of his incisive antislavery writing and dazzling oratory. He wrote many autobiographies among them the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)." This text became the most influential to abolish slavery. For a work to be regarded as a primary source the artifact, document or content has to be created at the period that is being studied by the individual with firsthand information of the events that happened. The content of the primary source is original, complete and has not been changed (Andrews p.3). The Dover Thrift Edition of the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" can be considered a primary source despite the time it was published. Although the copy available is not original, it is as valuable as the first print because it records the events of slavery from an individual who experienced them.
The text should not be considered as a copy of the primary source, for example, a copy of the Declaration of Independence. It is considered a primary source because it was published in 1776 when the authors of the declaration created it. Nevertheless, the document is a great historical value and significance and hence only a few individuals have accessed it. People who study the original document look for a copy with the same content as the original. The (Dover Thrift Edition) Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass is a primary source was published in 1995. However, this is a copy of the original text and is, therefore, a primary source.
One should not confuse the term "first edition" and "primary source". A first edition means the first print run of a document, which are in few copies. The first edition is small runs and therefore they are highly valued due to the limited quantities. As a primary source, "Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" is an eyewitness account despite the number of times it has been reproduced. The author, Fredrick was a former slave hence he offers firsthand facts about slavery. Although the story was altered to meet the whites' demands, he concentrated on Christians and tried to persuade them to abolish slavery. During the time Douglass was writing this documents Christians were condoning slavery and he was to criticize them politely.
Douglass' influential narrative has two main purposes. The narrative describes his struggle for freedom against the oppressive, prejudiced, and brutal slavery. His inspiration to describe his slave life was to let known the malicious nature of slavery and humanize the slaves. Douglass state that "I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave?" (Douglass, 74). The Southern slavery institution had negatively affected slaves. The entire text exposes slavery horrors and the physical abuse the slaves had to endure. Moreover, slave masters tortured them psychologically making them live a very unhappily. In the narrative doulas describes his emotions and thoughts vividly to humanize the blacks. At the time, slaves were considered unequal to humans because the masters regarded them as unintelligent and emotionally shallow people. These are just false prejudices that Douglas tries to object them by demonstrating his talents, critical thinking skills and emotional depth in his narrative. The narrative also presents him a rational man with an unrelenting spirit and high integrity. He describes slavery not only as a perverted, horrific but also as an oppressive institution to humanity. Douglass utilizes pathos to convince the audience to sympathize with the plight of the oppressed Black Americans. He laments his situation and wishes death over slavery when he writes "I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing" (Douglass, 74). The narrative challenged the whites to view slavery as a dehumanizing institution and also criticized false stereotypes of African Americans. The narrative made the Americans respects the African Americans as their equal (Fleming, 5).
According to Doane, Douglass is based on his view of slavery because he was born as a slave. He emphasizes the suffering and hardships slaves endure in their masters' homes. He is based on slave masters cruelty because was a victim of this oppression. He was humiliated and whipped on a daily basis "a very severe whipping ....for being awkward" (Douglass, 101). Douglass narrative tells the truth about the suffering of slaves to endure such as working for long hours without food or sleep. He describes how he almost died from fever and no one took care of him. He separated from his family and he was not aware of their state. He became a strong man and was able to fight for better remuneration for all the slaves "I was able to command the highest wages given to the most experienced calkers" (Douglass, 134). This depicts the true picture of slavery.
Frederick main theme is inhumanity towards other humans. Children taken away from their mothers "before the child has reached its twelfth month, it's mother is taken from it" (Douglass, 48) and bought to slave masters. Slaves were brutally even for minor offenses such as "a mere look, word, or motion" (Douglass, 118). Women were also treated as concubines by their masters and one would object to this cruelty. Slaves lived in small quarters that were cold with a damp floor that was worse than animal sheds. The slaves were not allowed to practice religion or hold any form of gathering. The slaves were also to remain illiterate forever since it was unlawful for anyone to teach them how to read and write (Douglass, 78).
Shields noted another book with the same genre was written by Olaudah Equiano who was also a former slave. Like Douglass, he described the horrors of slavery and he persuaded the Britain parliament to abolish it. Equiano was kidnapped from Nigeria as a child (Costanzo, 259). His work was to weed grass and gather stones. He was also separated from his father in Eboe village where he was kidnapped together with his sister. When compared to Douglass Equiano did not experience much suffering because he was later employed by Quaker merchant. He assigned him several roles such as loading boats, clerking and serving as a personal groom Equiano (Bugg p. 572).
In conclusion, Douglass autobiography the third edition "Narrative of the Life Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" is a primary source regardless of its publication date. Similarly to the original document, the third edition copy was created by an individual with first-hand information of the events that took place during the time. Douglass had the first-hand experience of the events of slavery because he was a subject to it. He narrates his life and he depicts the suffering he had to endure as a slave. His purpose was to persuade the Americans to abolish slavery because it was dehumanizing. When a document was published does not prove whether it is a primary source or not because the qualifications of a primary source are when it was written and the author.
Andrews, William. "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass." American History Through Literature. Ed. Janet Gabler-Hover and Robert Sattelmeyer. Vol. 2. Gale Cengage, 2006. eNotes.com. Web 11 Dec, 2012http://www.enotes.com/narrative-life Frederick- Douglass-reference/
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.
Bugg, John, "Deciphering the Equiano Archives," PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 122:2 (March 2007): 572-573;
Doane, Misty. "African American Education in the 19th century." www.naacpeducation.org. N.p., 2006. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
Fleming, Lauren. "Frederick Douglass." Emerson Consulting Group, Inc. Emerson Consulting Group, Inc., Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.U.S.history.org. "27f. The Southern Argument for Slavery." The Southern Argument for Slavery. UShistory.org, 2008-2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Costanzo, Angelo, "Equiano, Olaudah," The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, eds. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 257-258;
Shields, E. Thomson, "Equiano, Olaudah," American National Biography Online, 24 January 2008, http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-00512.html.
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