DWC201 – 001
October 8, 2018
What are the similar impacts of slavery on the slaves and slaveholders in the African American society that both Douglass and Brown mention in their biographies?
William Wells Brown and Frederick Douglass are two famous figures in the American and African American literature in the nineteenth century. They are both famous for their biographies that reflect the life of slaves and condemns the institution of slavery in American society. These two biographies are Narrative of Williams W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Readers can see that these two writings both shows the moral impacts of slavery not only on the slaves but also the slaveholders. It perverts the idea of Christianity, corrupts good people and separates family members.
First of all, slavery has perverted the idea of Christianity. The Southern churches misuse the religion to promote the action of slavery and make it become not sinful. In fact, slavery completely goes again the peaceful and good intention of Christianity. In the Narrative of Williams W. Brown, Brown writes, “ … when whipped, he must not find fault, — for the Bible says, ‘He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes!’ And slaveholders find such religion very profitable to them” (Brown, 47). Slaveholders claim that the slaves are born as they are; in other words, it is their fate that they must be slaves, and they have to serve the slaveholders what they want. Slaveholders change the teaching of the Bible so that it benefits them for the evil acts they do; while, in fact, the Bible says in an opposite idea. In the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, he also makes the same point about the slaveholders’ perversion of Christianity. He writes, “ … him tie up a lame young woman, … causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture – ‘He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’” (Douglass, 52). Readers can see that Douglass mentions the same quote from the Bible that Brown uses to illustrate the perversion of Christianity in the institution of slavery. This implies that many slaveholders share the same idea of Christianity in the African American society in the nineteenth century. They slaveholders all think that Christianity is a momentum for their cruel action. In other words, they are blind following the teaching of Christianity without knowing that they are being deceived.
Slavery also impacts on the morally good people, which turns them into cruel and evil people. In the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, he writes, “That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon” (Douglass, 36). Mrs. Sophia Auld was a good and humane person when she met Douglass. She was never a slaveholder before. However, affected by being a slaveholder, she becomes evil and cruel because slavery provides the slaveholders with the power to do anything they want, no matter it’s good or bad. Brown also makes a point which shows that slavery dehumanizes good people in the Narrative of Williams W. Brown. He writes, “This incident shows how it is that slavery makes its victims lying and mean; for which vices it afterwards reproaches them, and uses them as arguments to prove that they deserve no better fate. I have often, since my escape, deeply regretted the deception I practiced upon this poor fellow” (Brown, 35). After Douglass tricks an innocent colored child to hand the note to the jailor and that boy gets whipped, Douglass regrets doing that mean and deceiving action. He blames this evil action for slavery. Douglass argues that every slave wants to do the bad thing to other people because he thinks that slavery puts them in this ill fate and no matter he tries, he will never get out of this fate. Readers can see thoes good slaveholders is turned into demons by slavery and so is slaves.
Last but not least, slavery also results in the separation of the family members. In the Narrative of Frederick Douglass, he writes, “My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant – before I knew her as my mother … For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child” (Douglass, 15-16). Readers can see that it is very common for the babies to leave their mothers when they are still infants. The reason for this is to cut the bond between the mother and the children, as well as to let the mother get back to work soon. This is a cruel practice in the institution of slavery because the connection between a mother and a child cannot be separated. It is a human right to be with their mothers and their children. Anyone who interferes this bond should be condemned. The separation is also mentioned in the Narrative of William W. Brown. He writes, “The mother, as soon as she saw that her child was to be left, ran up to Mr. Walker, and falling upon her knees begged him to let her have her child; she clung around his legs, and cried, ‘Oh, my child! my child! master, do let me have my child! oh, do, do, do. I will stop its crying, if you will only let me have it again.’” (Brown, 30). When the baby cries too much, Mr. Walker decides to take the child away from his mother even though the mother is begging Mr. Walker to have her child back. This is such an inhumane action of the slaveholders, who take away the right of the mother to be with her child while the child is still very young. This practice of slavery should be condemned.
In conclusion, no one can deny the cruelty of the institution of slavery to the society, especially the slaves. It perverts Christianity, degrades good people and separates family members. All of these impacts are depicted accurately and truthfully in the two biographies of Frederick Douglass and William W. Brown. Through these two narratives, readers can see the truth of slavery in the American society of the nineteenth century.