Prompt: Douglass maintains that slavery dehumanized both the slave and the slaveholder. Quoting specific passages in the Narrative support this thesis with examples. Dehumanization can be described as the deprivation of an individual’s control over their actions and stripping them of their basic human rights and qualities. The act of dehumanization transpired in the 1800s when amputation, abuse, and other brutal means of punishment became a way to control slaves, leaving physical and physiological trauma on both the slave and the slaveholder.
The relationship of the master and the slave is criticized and questioned continually as it is both wrong and unjust in society. The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave optimizes this accurately; documenting the distressing treatment inflicted upon the slaves by their owners. Douglass also illustrates the slaveholder exploiting their powers and its detrimental effects on the slaveholder. Throughout the course of the novel, Douglass explains the different strategies and techniques the slaveholders used to keep the slaves ignorant, a scheme by which they gained more power.
Such behavior led many to believe the blacks were truly incompetent to participate within the white community, thus stripping them of their first natural right. Like animals, African American Slaves were also “trained” physiologically to think, Kumari 2 behavior, and act like slaves from birth. As explained in the Narrative, “the larger parts of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs. ” (Douglass 17) The comparison compels the reader to compare the development of the slaves to that of an animal; detached and dispassionate.
Douglass depicts another tormenting effect on the slaves as they had “no more voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked. ” (Douglass 49) This treatment of slaves as property or domestic animals concerns Douglass and epitomizes, yet again a barbarous form of dehumanization. Douglass further accentuates that many slaveholders kept their slaves indifferent by robbing them of their individual identities and paternity. Amongst the injustice and brutality of slavery is the exclusion of education and knowledge. The slaveholder would tactically deprive the laves of any knowledge because it would expose them of slavery’s injustice. This act dehumanized the slaves to a great extent, and at the same time forbade them to pursue any form of freedom, physically or spiritually. Hugh Auld, Douglass’s master reasoned that “it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read” and believed “If you have a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. ” (Douglass 40, 41) Auld advocated his reasoning by calling a slave “unmanageable,” “unhappy,” and “discontented” if enlightened. Douglass however understood differently.
The withdrawal of literacy and knowledge, he believed, was one of the greater factors keeping blacks inferior to whites in society. The Narrative also documents the many physiological effects of slaveholding. Douglass carefully explains the masters whipping their slaves when they least deserve it, and overlooking their deeds when they most deserve it. The killing of a slave is also considered the least of an offense or crime, and is simply gone Kumari 3 unnoticed. Douglass reveals the common saying that “it was worth a half-cent to kill a ‘nigger,’ and a half-cent to bury one. (Douglass 35) The saying denotes the worth of a human’s life, only decreased because the human is a slave. Relentless power, irresponsibility, profanity, and corruption were ranked highly amongst the descriptions of a slaveholder. Alongside the excruciating hours of labor and needless beating was the misuse of power which dehumanized the master morally. A sufficient amount of slaveholders impregnate their female slaves at the plantations. Although Douglass himself is allegedly a seed planted by a white man, his fate of slave was inescapable.
Douglass rationalizes that these acts were done to satisfy the masters themselves, “a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable. ” (Douglass 18) The mistreating of the slaves depraves not only the victim, but the offender itself. The victimization of female slaves demonstrates the master’s misuse of power through adultery, rape, and unnecessary whipping for solely pleasurable reasons. The Narrative also discloses the appalling transformation of normal humans into depraved, self-righteous masters.
The process is revealed through Sophia Auld, who at first, treats Douglass equally as her own and educates him. However, Mr. Auld explains to her the true immoral relationship of a master and a slave, the placement of a black person in society, and the balance of power between the two. Douglass then terms the transformation, describing slavery’s ability to “divest her of heavenly qualities…the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. ” Douglass rightly observed that “slavery proved injurious to her as it did to me. (Douglass 43) Sophia Auld’s character rightly illustrates the negative effects of Kumari 4 slaveholding, and the demon-like behavior that replaces the idealistic woman. Edward Covey and Thomas Auld also embody the perfect dehumanized slaveholders. Cruel and calculating, Covey is devoted to inflicting pain on his slaves physiologically and physically by carrying deception as his weapon. Thomas Auld on the other hand, transforms from cruel to an immensely vile human being despite his conversion into a “pious” man.
Auld justifies his sins through religious practices and attends a Methodist Camp-meeting in finding “religious sanction and support for his slaveholding. ” (Douglass 55) Douglass however sees such practices as instances of religious hypocrisy; an excuse for the sins a master has committed. Auld’s behavior signifies dehumanization and immorality increasingly because it exploits religious practices to hide the cruelty and sinning actions of the slaveholder. African American slaves possessed little human qualities, if any. Fredrick Douglass’s narrative documents the extent of nastiness, brutality, and evil mankind is capable of possessing.
Douglass draws attention to how blacks were dehumanized by the unnatural practice and viciousness of slavery. The same slaves were forced to endure in conditions impractical to live by. The exact extent of immorality the slaveholders possessed also succeeded in destroying themselves. Much of these actions depicted the complete banishment of individual morals from the slaveholders and the inferiority imposed upon the black slaves. The Narrative explains that such brutal means of punishment to the slave or the slaveholder only discouraged the role of man and their responsibilities in society.