Monday, February 15, 2021

"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" by Frederick Douglass

I can't believe I'd never read this before!  You'd think with all the history classes, all the literature classes, surely someone would have assigned Frederick Douglass's Narrative to me.  But, nope.  You'd also think I would have gotten around to reading it before now, on my own, especially since I've owned a copy for at least two years.  But, nope.

Well, I've read it now, and I found it both enlightening and enjoyable.  While sometimes Douglass does start to sound a little bit... oratorical... he mostly tells his life story in a straight-forward and easy-to-read manner.  Certainly, he was writing this with an agenda, namely to convince people of the evils of slavery, but it rarely felt like a lecture or an argument.  Just a man telling you about his own experiences, and letting you conclude for yourself whether or not his life was typical or atypical for those living in slavery.

I was a little sad that he couldn't give a more detailed account of his escape to freedom in the north, but he withheld most of it to protect those who helped him, who were still alive and possibly in danger of reprisals, so it was understandable and wise of him to omit that part, I thought.

It was really interesting to read this on the heels of The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby because it succeeded in something that I thought Tisby failed at.  Douglass did a great job of pointing out that the failure of Christian churches toward enslaved people is not the fault of Christianity, but of individuals claiming to be Christians.  Tisby lumped those together, but Douglass clearly separated them, especially in the book's appendix, where he wrote:

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference -- so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked.  To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other (p. 71).

If you're looking for something to read for Black History Month, this gets my vote.  It's a quick read, not difficult, and both historically and culturally important.  Since yesterday is believed to have been Douglass's birthday, I thought it was a good time to read it, and I'm glad I did.

Particularly Good Bits:

The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears (p. 9).

The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness (p. 24).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-15 for descriptions of whippings, beatings, and other acts of violence, as well as discussions of sexual misconduct and force.  Those were non-graphic, but I won't have my kids read it until high school because I don't think they'll be ready for it.

This was my 16th book read for my 3rd Classics Club list, and my 7th book read off my unread shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.


  1. How nice to have read this on his bday. Douglass has a longer version of his autobiography: The Life and Times of FD. And he has another autobiography called My Bondage and My Freedom, which I am planning to read in April w/ my book club. I'm so excited bc I admire his courage and resolve so much. Now that you've read his auto, I hope you get to read more from him.

    I wasn't required to read anything by Douglass in all my education either...and that just dumbfounds me! It wasn't until I homeschooled my kids that I first remember reading about FD at all, thanks to my resources.

    1. Ruth, it kind of happened serendipitously -- Jamie Lapeyrolerie chose it for her next book club read, and I started it earlier in Feb, but put it down to concentrate on another book for a different read-along, and then when I saw it was his birthday, I picked it back up and finished it.

      I'll put his other, longer books on my TBR watchlist. I'd at least heard about him and read about him in all my history classes, but this is so short and impactful I can't believe it wasn't ever assigned. Maybe my classes just didn't emphasize primary sources much. At least I got to read it now! And I'll be having my kids read it in high school, along with a lot of other things I missed, like Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington.


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