American Literature and Culture Essay
“You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave is made a man” (Douglass). Explore the relationship between gender and freedom in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave?
The famous quote, “you have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave is made a man” can be considered one of the most pinnacle lines throughout Frederick Douglass’s narrative and it is to be considered the main turning point of both Douglass’s life and also within the novel. The quote highlights the links between gender and freedom and shows the deep struggles and hardships of the lives of African American slaves during the time. In her article of, ‘Rewriting the American Self: Race, Gender, and Identity in the Autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs’ Kimberley Drake states the slave women was highly depended on her master but was, ‘forced to work like a man and to breed like an animal, and thus was denied the ability cultivate "feminine" attributes’. This is shown within Douglass's narrative as it presents the sheer amount of hardship that slavery took on all its participants, moreover, how women suffered a larger part of the physical abuse within slavery due to the fact their body strength was less, and they were traditionally perceived as the weaker beings. Female involvement within slavery throughout Douglass’s narrative is on a small scale compared to that of males, but when it is explored it shows the troubling link between gender and freedom and the different ways in which men and women slaves were treated, both mentally and physically.
In American society during the time, women were stereotypically viewed as caring and maternal figures, however, Douglass’s narrative emphasises how female slaves also had their maternal privileges stripped as most women were separated from their children before any bond could be formed. An example of this, is the relationship between Douglass and his own mother, he explains form the start of the novel that there was no existing relationship between him and his mother, ‘I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night’ (page 2), this shows how female slaves were stripped of their maternal instincts and their bond with their children. By the maternal bond and privileges being removed from female slaves, it strips them of their power and damages their emotional connections with people in the future, therefore, causing their struggle for freedom to become harder. Also, Douglass recollects the small amount of time he spent with his mother in the novel, ‘She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone’ (page 2). This shows that the fact that Douglass never actually met his mother in daylight almost strips her identity from him and as Drake stated in ...