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Paper Topic:

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass how do the functions of race and gender allow for an authentic identity of self?

p The Role of Race and Gender in

Frederick Douglass Narrative of the Life of Frederick

Douglass : An American Slave

The role played by race and gender in the lives of African slaves in the 19th Century is critical to understanding the history of slavery itself . As Yarborough points out , slaves were still human and had the same thoughts and feelings as others , this included opinions and attitudes about the meaning of femininity and masculinity as well as what it meant to be an African American slave had (Yarborough 1991 :167

One of the foremost thinkers in the exploration of the role that race and gender played in slaver was author , editor and abolitionist Frederick Douglass . Douglass 's life as a slave led him to a much different understanding of Black masculinity than that typically portrayed in American literature at the time

In his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Douglass :2001 ) Frederick Douglass describes his life growing up as a slave and the denigration and humiliation he felt when he was disrespected by White men due to his race . Douglass also describes how he was perceived as different from the other black slaves due to the fact that he was mulatto . According to Yarborough , this was typical of the feelings of Black men during the slavery years of the 19th century While Black women for the most part met the Victorian ideals of femininity , Black men were not seen as meeting the Victorian ideals of masculinity (Yarborough : 1991 :169

As Douglas comes to understand the climate of oppression and hostility that causes White men to see Black men as so much less than they he states I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty - to wit , the white man 's power to enslave the black man (Douglas : 2001 :60 ) Black men were seen as less intelligent and creative than white men , and they were not seen as being capable of higher thought . This pattern of thinking led many including Douglass to begin developing plans to fight for their freedom , either by running away , or by other means such as saving money from contracted work to purchase their own freedom

According to Yarborough , manhood comes to stand for the spiritual commodity that one must maintain in the face of oppression in to avoid losing a sense of self worth (Yarborough : 1991 167 ) Douglass thorough the process of learning to read and write learns this sense of self worth , and he never perceives the world in quite the same way Douglass despairs as he is sold to the meanest of slave owners , and become little better than a bottom rung farm hand . Douglass states of this tie My natural elasticity was crushed , my intellect languished the disposition to read departed , and the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died the dark night of slavery closed in upon me and behold a man transformed into a brute (Douglass : 2001 :79 ) He feels that he is...

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