In the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas, the reoccurring strand of freedom develops a foundation of Frederick’s narrative. Douglass, as well as many other slaves, view Baltimore as a place of freedom and somewhere that is a vastly different from where they are from. Similarly, in Primo Levi’s, Survival of Auschwitz, freedom and confinement are two strands that reoccur throughout the text. The people in concentration camps are physically confined, but their lack of freedom consumes them.
Primo Levi describes his experience in Auschwitz by telling his narrative in the concentration camps. During his time at the camps he suffers through confinement and lack of freedom. In Auschwitz, nothing belongs to the prisoners, everything that is “theirs” really belongs to the Nazis. There are many instances that show this type of feeling. One being, “And for many days, while the habits of freedom still led me to look for the time on my wristwatch, my new name ironically appeared instead, its number tattooed in bluish characters under the skin” (Levi). When Primo looks down at his wrist he used to see his watch, but now he sees the Nazi symbol and how he is “owned” by the Nazis. In most cases of the people that were in the camps, they didn’t make it out, or at least didn’t have hope that they would. After getting out of the camp, Primo struggled with what it was like to live as a human, after being in a place that belittled them and treated them like animals. To the Nazis, these prisoners are nothing more than a number.
Throughout the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, it mainly focuses on the lack of freedom of slaves, and the poor treatment bestowed upon them from their masters, and the majority of the south. Masters often treated their slaves as a type of physical property, rather than a human being. Slaves are often passed between owners without consideration as to where their families are or if they even want to go. All they know is what they are told from their masters; who tend to hide the rest of the world outside of the plantations from them. They are estranged from the knowledge of what life could be like somewhere else, and how they can be treated kindly and humanely by people from the north or people closer the city like Baltimore. As Douglass says, “going to Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity” (Douglass, 18).
The strand of freedom is very prevalent in both of the texts and is similarly represented through the confinement and inhumane treatment of the slaves/prisoners. Levi has somewhat of a different perspective because he went from being a free citizen to being confined in the concentration camps and was stripped of all his personal dignity and just became a “number”. He explains that he and others take freedom for granted, “But consider what value, what meaning is enclosed even in the smallest of our daily habits, in the hundred possessions which even the poorest beggar owns: a handkerchief, an old letter, the photo of a cherished person. These things are part of us, almost like limbs of our body; nor is it conceivable that we can be deprived of them in our world, for we immediately find others to substitute the old ones, other objects which are ours in their personification and evocation of our memories” (Levi).
He says that even the small things in life, like our daily routines, are taken for granted because when you lose it all, you realize how lucky you were to even have it in the first place. For Douglass, he never really had a period of time when he was “free”. He says, “I left Baltimore with a young heart overborne with sadness, and a soul full of apprehension” (Douglass). When he had the opportunity to go to Baltimore is opened his perspective on slavery and made him realize that he has it the worst.