Frederick Douglass’ Depiction of the Turning Points in his Life
Frederick Douglass is the author of “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Written by himself.” He is using clear language and true facts in order to be very descriptive, so readers can imagine all the things he is writing about. Douglass’ description of slavery is not the same as those from the other slaves because of the fact that everyone understands and experiences slavery differently. There are certain points in his life when something change, something happens and gives him a hope and force to continue with the struggle one day to be free.
A definition of what a turning point is “a time, place, event at which there is a significant change or something crucial happens” is enough to find out that in Douglass’ life there has been several turning points even though he had just once mention that word in his narrative. He depicts those turning points in his own way. Firstly, the kitchen where his aunt was whipped was the place where he realized how it is to be a slave. Second, the period when he is learning how to read and write, and the moment when he gets a hint what is the path from slavery to freedom. Also, the soliloquy or in another words his own thoughts that are running in his mind is an important turning point. And the last and most important turning point is the fight with Mr. Covey.
From this line “It was all new to me. I had never seen any thing like it before,” (Chapter I. page 6) it is obvious that Douglass had no idea what it really means to be a slave. “It was here that I witnessed the bloody transaction record in the first chapter; and as I received my first impression of slavery on this plantation” (Chapter II p.6). From this line the word ‘here’ refers to the kitchen which was the place where his master took his aunt Hester. All that process of whipping is described as a bloody transaction which is so cruel and that can be concluded from the lines below. “The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood run fastest, there he whipped longest.” (Chapter I p.6) How traumatic and unpleasant, that scene looked to a child seeing a whipping for the very first time. Moreover, his life completely changes for a few seconds. This is a point where he realizes that he is a slave and what that means to be. Before that, he had lived with his grandmother on the outskirts of the plantation. Here is the point where from carefree childhood his life turns to the hell of slavery. That is obvious from this lines “It was the bloody stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, though which I was about to pass.” (Chapter I p.6)
The second thing that somehow made a huge change in Douglass’ life is the period when he is learning how to read and write. That period is a turning point in his life because he understands the real world. He was sent to Baltimore to live with the Auld family. His mistress started to teach him how to write, but a sudden change then happened. Frederick depicts this turning point with a fact that helped him to realize something and with lots of other examples how he succeeded in learning to read and write.
His master forbid to his mistress to teach him with these words “A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master- as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.”(Chapter VI p. 12) These were the words that made Douglass realize what it means for someone to know how to read and write. To be literate means to be unfit to be a slave. “These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new trait of though.”(Chapter VI) Those words touched him so deep, made him full with emotions that before were asleep and made him to think differently than before.
From Douglass’ own words “From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom” (Chapter VI p.12) is obvious, that was the moment when he woke up. As the time passed, he found different ways of learning how to read. “The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these I could, I converted into teachers.” (Chapter VII p.13) This was a perfect change in his life, to be a friend with white boys in order to learn how to read. In addition, the book “The Columbian Orator” and the dictionary helped him a lot in learning what some actually some words are and how that work in real life. He has learned what abolition and emancipation are. One day, he met two Irishmen on the dock and helped them. Both of them advised him to run away to the north, but Douglass pretended not to have interest in their advice. This is the point where he resolved to run away, but thinking that he was too young he decided to wait for another chance and till then to learn how to write.
“They both advise me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there and that I should be free.” “I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to write.” (Chapter VII p.14) Even though the meeting with two Irishmen makes him to think about the escape, he somehow is thinking differently putting a question that he may be caught and white man to get a reward for that. From this line “Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in the learning how to write” (Chapter VII p.14) is clear that he achieve skills to read and write.
Another interesting turning point in his life is the soliloquy that he narrates. Before that when he met the two Irishmen, he said that he was too young but now he was not. Looking at Chesapeake Bay, he has thoughts that come in his mind. This soliloquy is a turning point in his life because if before that he was not sure how to escape; now he was sure of that. He remembered all his past memories and came up with a clear thought. “I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught me, or get clear, I will try it,” (Chapter X p.19) from this line is apparent that he is decided to escape. The way in which Douglass depicts this turning point is that he compares himself with the ships, or in another words how is to be free and to be a slave. “You are loosed from your mornings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip!”(Chapter X p.19) How depictive and true are these words when he makes that comparison. Even thought he is at the moment of maddens, he is willing to do that.
“Thus I used to think, and thus I used to speak to myself; goaded almost to madness at one moment and the next reconciling myself to my wretch lot” (Chapter X p.19) there is some change in what he used to speak before that and what comes after his soliloquy. Just read this sentence and there is what has changed somehow in his thoughts about his life “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man,” (Chapter X p.19) so before he was writing how is to be a slave, now he is going to show us how a slave is made a man. That is completely a turning point from what he was describing before in the text.
The last turning point is the fight with Mr. Covey. “This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave.” (Chapter X p.20) In what sense was the battle a turning point? In a way that he does not want to be a slave anymore, to be whipped and he is going to confront the opponent. He proved to everyone how a slave could be a man. “I felt as I never felt before. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long crushed spirit rose, cowardice departured, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form; the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” (Chapter X p.20-21) These lines show how someone like him who has lost everything, in that fight gets more than he expected. He feels like he is born again. He was broken spiritually before that, but after the fight he finds his spirit again. A man without a spirit is a man without a life. This seems like he was not alive before. Now, he feels strong and finally he confronts the opponent.
In conclusion, Douglass’ depiction of the turning points in his life are connected one to another. He is writing from the moment he remembers about himself, till the time he decides to escape. He describes what he has seen and what has happened to him. He is using appropriate words, a clear language in order to be clear in his thoughts and to be understood. One turning point in his life leads to another. Imagine if there was not his soliloquy, will he confront Mr.Covey? The fight was the greater turning point, but without the other turning points the last one would not happen. This is the same as if a decision to escape did not exist in slave narratives then that will not be a slave narrative.
They way he is describing the turning points, is in which way those points change his life. When he was witness of the bloody transaction as a child, his life changed into a hell of slavery. The period he is learning how to read and write changes his life in a way to understand the world and injustice which is made to slaves. His soliloquy is the point where he summons up what he is in comparison with a ship. In that moment, he has a bulb upon his head and lights up. The last turning point is the fight which probably will not happen if the other turning points were not existed. His depiction makes some kind of picture in our mind to feel and imagine all he is writing about.