The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: the Formation of Iden

2185 words 9 pages
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:
An Analysis of the Formation of Identity

"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you will now see how a slave was made a man." –Frederick Douglass

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave details the progression of a slave to a man, and thus, the formation of his identity. The narrative functions as a persuasive essay, written in the hopes that it would successfully lead to "hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of [his] brethren in bonds" (Douglass 331). As an institution, slavery endeavored to reduce the men, women, and children "in bonds" to a state less than human. The slave identity, according to the institution of slavery, was not
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Douglass used education to facilitate his progression from slave to man. Beginning at a young age, Douglass taught himself to read and write. After Mrs. Auld taught him his ABCs and to write small words, Douglass continued to learn on his own even after she stopped teaching him. Relying on white children on the street to help him learn to write, Douglass began forming his selfhood in terms other than slavery. Literacy and education taught Douglass about the concept of freedom and allowed him to view it not only as an ideal, but also as a necessity. As it was not traditionally a slave's role to learn to read and write, literacy taught Douglass to question the role that slavery forced on him. Literacy helped him realize that he was not an animal whose purpose was to work. He deserved freedom, and intellect could be the vehicle that provided him it. This first aspect of his progression from slave to man then, came through education—up until this point in his life, he had not questioned his perception of his identity as nothing more than an animal, an investment, or a slave for life. However, with literacy, "the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon [his] heart" (Douglass 278). As Douglass began to change his self-perception from a slave to a man, he also began to resist his slave role forced onto him by the institution of slavery and fight against it. This resistance finds