The Slave Narrative of Frederick Douglass
Introduction and chapters 1-3

You are going to read the introduction and chapters 1-3 of the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave. Use the commentary and questions to below to help you think as you read.

You are also welcome to listen to these chapters.

Pages 1-10 These pages are an introduction to this autobiography by a man named William Garrison. William Lloyd Garrison (December 12, 1805 – May 24, 1879) was a prominent American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. (An abolitionist was a person who was against slavery.) He was the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. He was also one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society and called for "immediate emancipation" of slaves in the United States. In addition to being an abolitionist, William Garrison was supportive of the women's suffrage movement. Suffragists were individuals, women and men, who support women gaining the right to vote. The suffrage and abolitionist movement had a lot in common.

Pages 11-15 Slave narratives were often prefaced with introductions by white editors. These introductions or prefaces were often an attempt to prepare white audiences for the explicit nature of the narrative. These introductions were also provided to testify of the authenticity of the narrative. This is a letter from Wendell Philips. Phillips was a friend of Douglass and president of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Pages 16-22 Douglass is a master of words. He uses all his words to persuade. Watch for places that he uses classic persuasive strategies.

Logos: appeal to reason

Ethos: appeal to one's own character and what is ethical
Pathos: appeal to emotion

As you read, think about what aspects of slave life are shocking or painful to read about. Put yourself in Douglass's place and imagine what he might have felt.

Look for the way that Douglass uses words.

What effect does the repetition of certain words have on the reader?

Which words serve as strong images?
Which verbs seem particularly strong?

Pages 23- 28 Think about the comparison Douglass makes between being elected to Congress and being chosen to run an errand at the Great House Farm. What is Douglass's tone? What is the point he is trying to make?

How Douglass describe the songs or spirituals that the slaves would sing?

What seems to be the tone of the spiritual "Great House Farm"? Why?

For what might the phrase "Great House" be a metaphor? Consider the context of the song and evaluate the denotation and connotation of "Great House."

Upon reflection, what does Douglass realize about why slaves sang spirituals and about the basic purpose of the spirituals?

Which of Douglass's descriptive words or phrases in the passage show the extent to which he deplores slavery? Which rhetorical appeals does Douglass use and to what effect?

How does Douglass dismiss the misconception that a singing slave is necessarily a content and happy slave? What analogy does he use? Is this analogy effective?

Pages 28-33 What does Douglass mean when he says that "a still tongue makes a wise head"?

How did the slaves themselves have a class system? What made one slave better than another? What does Douglass seem to think of this posturing?

Last modified: Thursday, 14 June 2012, 4:20 PM