A comparison between Frederick Douglass Autobiography and 12 years a slave.
Frederick Douglass Autobiography
The autobiography begins by giving a brief story about the roots of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was the son of a slave owner and born to a slave. The situation in which he was born was a common practice for most of the white slave owners as they used to rape the slaves for pleasure and to expand the number of their slaves. Douglass also talks about the hypocrisy of slave owners who use to cover under the umbrella of Christianity to justify the treatment of the slaves they owned. The author also talks about the conditions his fellow slaves used to live in as they persevered brutal beating which resulted in many of them dying while others were being murdered. The injustice went unnoticed by the community, and even the law itself turned a blind eye. Douglass presents his views on the reason why slaves would sing, and he likens it with crying and drowning their sorrows not the notion of singing in contentment. The author also draws our attention to what he believes is a false system of values formed by slavery where allegiance to the master is stronger than to the fellow slaves (Douglass).
The author goes ahead and talks about his life while serving one master and sold to another. Douglass also talks about his life with a family that made a huge difference in his life, the family that introduced him to reading and what he went through to lay his hands on a book that he could read. He talks about the brutality of various masters that he had to work for and how he even beats up one of his masters who tries to whip him. Douglass talks about his life as a Sunday school teacher while hatching a plan to run away. He is however caught, and as life continues, he is nearly beaten to death in one situation which resulted in him being more restricted by turning over his wages to the master as he was being rented as a caulker to another slave owner. He is, however, able to retain some money which he saves up and escapes to New York. In New York, he settles down with his new wife Anna Murray where he makes ends meet on odd jobs. Douglass lives in fear that he will be caught and returned from where he came. Despite the fear he attends an anti-slavery convention and is encouraged to speak. The convention was the basis of his life in the public writing and speaking for the abolition of slavery ("Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave").
12 years a slave
12 years a slave is a narrative that covers is the life story of Solomon Northup. It talks about his life in three broad categories which are; his life as a freeman, life in captivity and slavery and finally his life as a free man gain. The first two chapters of the narrative speak of his life as a black man who lived in the city of New York with a family composed of his wife and three daughters. Northup was born in 1808 to an emancipated slave where he grew working with his father on the farm. He was also educated to a level of competence in reading and writing. Northup also learned how to play violin which would in future be the source of his misfortune. In his life being a free man, he worked in various sectors such as farming, lumberjacking and playing the violin, while his wife, on the other hand, was a cook. In 1841, Solomon Northup met two white men who offered him a job to play violin if he would accept to travel with them to Washington, D.C. The two turned out to be co-artists who kidnapped them by drugging him. Northup woke up in the darkness while chained after gaining his consciousness back. The wake up in the dark would be the beginning of his second phase in life and which would turn out to be dull and arduous ("12 Years A Slave: 12 Years A Slave | Cliffsnotes Book Summary & Analysis").
The second phase is told in chapter three to eleven is the stage that takes up most of the narrative. In this phase, Northup talks about his life in captivity where he finds himself in the slave pen that belonged to James H. Burch. James is a slave trader who is brutal to his captives in Washington D.C. Northup finds his life threatened after he tries to explain that he was a free man before he was taken as a prisoner. Together with other slaves, he is taken to Freeman’s slave pen in New Orleans, Louisiana. Freeman was Burch’s associate who eventually changed Northup’s name to Platt. He is later sold to a man named William Ford. The master was kind, and Northup found pleasure in working for him and even found means to save money for his master which resulted to Ford liking Northup back. Problems with financial management by Ford led to him selling Platt to a cruel master by the name John M. Tibeats to cut on the debt he owed. Tibeats attempts to whip him, but Northup instead beats him resulting to the master threatening to kill him. Tibeats finally sells him off to another notorious master by the name Edwin Epps after various failed attempts to kill him. Solomon explains that this was the most painful, humiliating and depriving years of his life where he worked for ten years. It is also during the time that he met with a carpenter by the name Bass who heard his story and agreed to help by sending letters to his family back in New York ("12 Years A Slave: 12 Years A Slave | Cliffsnotes Book Summary & Analysis").
The last part of the narrative talks about his life as a free man again where through the help of Bass and a relative of the man who once owned his father as a slave gets back to his family. Solomon tries to pursue justice, but it is not granted as his kidnappers walk free. At home, he finds out that one of his daughters got married and had a son who she named in his memory ("12 Years A Slave: 12 Years A Slave | Cliffsnotes Book Summary & Analysis").
The first narrative of Frederick Douglass autobiography was written years before the 12years a slave. However, they were both published in a period during which slavery in America was at the peak. The first reason why the two narratives were influential at the time of publishing is that there was a vast collection of slavery-themed autobiographies narrating the horrors men of color went through as slaves owned by their masters. Slave narratives were the widely-read narrative at that time whether true story or fictional. Among the many other anecdotes that made the slave narrative collection was; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1853) (Andrews and Adams). The stories provided counts of each person’s experience in slavery which helped identify slavery abolitionists with each other and helped fight for their rights as humans and not slaves.
Secondly, the narratives were personal experiences for both parties where they narrated from their account of events. 12 years a slave counteracted criticism of fabrication by relaying accurate reports of incidents in the life of Northup, unlike Frederick Douglass who preferred to generalize and use pseudonyms in his whole autobiography except his name. Northup used real names, dates and places which made the narrative vivid for readers. His intentions were to help identify his captors and bring them to trial for the years of his life wasted as a slave yet he was a free man to begin. Northup also intended to bring the atrocities of slavery to light and help people realize that slavery was barbaric and needed to be abolished (Lieblich). Other former slaves like Frederick Douglass promoted the narrative which made it even more influential. Douglass was a slavery abolitionist and was influential at the time for his work. The story would be used as a tool that would influence people to abolish slave since as presented in the story there were lots of social injustice and deprivation of human rights for the slaves.
In his account, Douglass uses his real name which puts him in trouble and forces him to seek refuge in the British Isles for two years as he was still a property of his master who was legally entitled to track him down and take him back to where he belonged ("Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave").
Presenting the events from a personal perspective showed that the events were authentic and presentation from the slave’s point of view made the narratives even more influential. The stories formed a part of the campaign to fight against slavery as they represented all the bad events that happened in the lives of the people who narrated them. They also gave hope to the people who were still enslaved that there as a future for them one that does not include slavery in the equation.
The narratives are still relevant today due to various reasons. The first reason is that they represent a huge percentage of the history of America. Every country has a story to tell, a story of its origin and what it took the country to develop up to the point that it is at now. Slavery is part of American history, and the narratives bring to light the vivid picture of what it was like during the 19th century when America was on the ground trying to rise against all the odds (Lieblich). Although the narratives do not represent the best of times in the history of the country, it is a representation of how far America has come.
Secondly, the stories formed a basis for numerous novels written in the 20th century. Among them being Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage (1990), Sherley Ann Williams’s Dessa Rose (1986), and Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979). Others were Alex Haley’s Roots (1976), Ernest Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), Margaret Walker’s Jubilee (1965), and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952). The books were slavery narratives which talked about African American leaders including Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Richard Wright and so many others (Andrews and Adams). The people in these biographies were the ones who influenced the lives of the people of color in the United States of America.
The narratives were narrated by two of the influential people in the 19th century fighting for the human right and equal treatment. The fight is one that still lives on, and people can identify with Solomon Northup and Frederick Douglass as their forerunners in the quest for equal treatment ("Frederick Douglass - Black History - HISTORY.Com"). As a result, the narratives remain relevant as they communicate hope among groups of the minority in the society.
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