Essay on Fredrick Douglass Efforts to Individualism: The Introduction of The Narrative

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Individualism is an element of transcendentalism which encourages people to think and express their ideas independently. Independence of thought means disregarding popular beliefs, societal demands, and general conformity. The autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself was initially published in 1845. The Introduction of The Narrative was written in 1960 by Benjamin Quarles. The Introduction serves to make the readers understand more the man that was Fredrick Douglass and introduce him to the "modern world ushered by the 1960s".

In the Introduction, we get to learn the thoughts that occurred to the mind of Fredrick Douglass in his first-person narrative of his experiences. Fredrick Douglas had a charismatic personality, and he was attracted to the abolitionist cause. Douglass, at the age of only 22 managed to escape slavery in 1838, traveling from Maryland to New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1841 he attended an abolitionist meeting and shared his experiences as a slave- "his speech was compelling, profound and appealing to sentiment." Douglass unique experiences were something that he owned, and after this initial sharing of his early slaving life, he became more natural at it.

The choice of words and somber tone he set while speaking was singular. Additionally, it was accurate account and the fact that he was a striking man, with a deep baritone voice and a stature helped him capture his audience's attention in meetings. People who heard him were moved to tears. The support he got from the abolitionist meetings would propel him into writing and abolitionist causes in politics. Douglass was meticulous and had a key attention to detail. He strove to write from recollection as much as possible. He names places, and people such as his master Captain Aaron Anthony, and historical records identify these as facts. As far as reliability goes, Douglass is reliable. In The Introduction it is written, The Narrative recognizes no claim other than that of the slave. Douglass decision to disregard everybody else except the slave in an attempt to appeal for the abolition of slavery is a very much individualistic approach.

The property rights of the masters were nothing; property rights were nothing" according to Douglass. Douglass uses direct language- he does not see the need for tact or diplomacy. Douglas was not writing his account to beg for the end of slavery. Instead, he was upfront and demanding in his approach. According to Douglass', in the matter of slavery, the rights of the slave had the priority over those of the property owners and the state. Somebody might be mistaken for thinking Douglass was racist. Far from it; he embraced one of the earliest forms of nationalism. Once he got into politics in 1850, he participated in a lot of recruitment of black people into the Union Army during the American civil war.

Douglass pressured Abraham Lincoln constantly to abolish slavery once and for all. He demanded equal rights for the black people. Growing up a slave, Douglas had been discouraged from learning by one of his masters. This blatant dismissal of a simple request made him self-teach himself reading and writing. The will and drive to better his life and the defiant manner with which he managed it added a lot to Douglass' charm. He once wrote, I cant write to much advantage, having never had a days schooling in my life.(The Liberator, November 18, 1842). His second wife was White and a feminist, and he had many White friends such as Abraham Lincoln.

Slavery was espoused as a soul-killing institution by Douglass own words. Whether his experiences were as severe as he wrote in The Narrative is open to debate. For example, he did not do justice to master Thomas Aulds good intentions." One thing is for certain though; his experience with slavery made Douglass hate it and inspired his quest to abolish it. His individualistic account in The Narrative is well written, a first-hand account that appealed to the masses' appetite for "the revolting hero." From Fredrick Douglass' experiences, we learn how much individualism can inspire people to do things that will change the lives of others. Douglass' account indicates that inspiration can be found in the darkest of places.


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