The Autobiographical Elements In Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

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Born into slavery aroound 1818, Frederick Douglass stands as an influential leader of abolitionists, amongst other major titles. He remains as one of the most important figures in America’s struggle for civil rights and racial equality. Douglass spoke out against oppression throughout America and abroad, and his struggle for freedom, self-discovery, and identity.

In his well renowned autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” Douglass describes his life from early childhood, his escape from slavery, and his position as an advocate for freedom. Although this autobiography is written solely by Frederick Douglass, this edition was edited with an introduction by professor David W. Blight and features some of Douglass’s letters and speeches.

In the graphic novel, “The Life of Frederick Douglass,” readers are warped into the 1800’s and are brought through Douglass’s worlds. Written by David F. Walker, Damon Smyth, and Marissa Louise, the comic biography shows the journey of bondage to freedom as well as spotlighting the key events and other important figures that help shape the narrative and Frederick Douglass himself.

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave”

The purpose of his autobiography can come as a way to educate future generations of his time or possibly kept for record and personal release. Both of these reasons are relatively true. Frederick Douglass was an astounding literate and not many are in his caliber. His motivation to write about his difficult life as a slave was to both inform the American public about the malicious nature of slavery and to humanize the slaves negatively affected. Throughout his narrative, Frederick Douglass depicts the horrors of slavery by exposing the slave masters use of physical and psychological abuse. He describes an unfortunate event where he witnesses a female slave receiving punishment, “After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope… made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook… after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood came dripping to the floor,” (45). This just goes to show how inhumane people were and it’s important to understand that events like this should never occur again in America. Douglass sharing his vivid descriptions of his experiences, emotions, and thoughts pushed for slavery to be abolished in his time and for future generations to learn the significance of abolishing. The autobiography itself is a record for Frederick Douglass to hold onto. Because he was so well-educated and articulate unlike other slaves, many started to speculate he was never a slave to begin with. This narrative is a means to prove his identity as well. In the first two chapters he goes into explaining who he is, where he is from, his upbringing, etc. Not only is it prove to others who he is, but to himself. He finds his purpose in being an abolitionist, orator, and statesman, practically serving for the ones who don't have the education and opportunity he had. The success of his autobiography was well-received in the mid 1800’s. According to the University of Virginia’s Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities, it was considered one of the “best-selling fugitive slave narratives” and sold 5000 copies.

What I learned from Douglass’s autobiography is the hardship he went through growing up to being a leader for the anti-slavery reform. He goes into great detail about his experiences in slave plantations and and his journey of escape to become an important figure. Frederick Douglass was a dedicated man to his missions and his people. In the last chapter of his narrative he states, “…I have been engaged in pleading the cause of my brethren - with what success, and with what devotion, I leave those acquainted with my labors to decide,” (117). In a way it sounds like he is implying that with his success and influence, he is hoping that others alike will step up to the plate and advocate for civil rights. I definitely recommend this book as it is a way we can connect with Frederick Douglass’s life and really analyze the events that lead to his freedom and road to being an abolitionist.

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“The Life of Frederick Douglass”

This biography has a different spin from many biographies concerning Frederick Douglass. Like his autobiography, this narrative portrays the difficult times he goes through leading up to his successful career. The difference this narrative holds is that it is a graphic narrative, in a way we are seeing the events that happened through his eyes, as if we were there with him. The purpose of this book is for readers to visually experience Douglass’s life story. Compared to a traditional 3rd person biography, this book is in 1st person point of view, with detailed images of characters and events. The artwork in the novel done by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise gives an expressive and vibrant feel to further link Frederick Douglass’s life to the reader. Despite the friendly colors used, “The Life of Frederick Douglass,” is explicit and straightforward with its delivery of history lessons and real life events. In one page of the comic, there is a piece said by Frederick about the hate of colored people, “Time away from my family meant time facing the prejudices of the North, where slavery no longer existed but, the hatred of black skin continued,” (94). Readers are then met on the next page of depictions of him getting beaten by two white men, this novel does not shy away from the violence that took place. The possible reason as to why the book was written was most likely to give people a new perspective of Frederick Douglass’s life. The main author, David F. Walker, touches on the novel in an interview with the Washington Post:

“As much as I love pop entertainment, I think that we do [so] much escaping into popular culture that we run away from our own realities. We don’t want to face the real demons that are out there,” Walker said. “I wish that more people would sort of look toward history for inspiration and for strength because at the end of the day, Superman doesn’t show up and save the day in real life” (The Washington Post).

I believe in this statement he is implying that not many people today are intrigued with the real-life history lessons of the lives of influential people of our past. Because of the gruesome reality Americans faced in our history, people would rather turn away and indulge in fictional pop entertainment. Turning Frederick Douglass’s biography into a comic-style lets the reader understand our past as well as still indulge in the vibrant drawings of Frederick Douglass. I believe the authors were success in the delivery of the biography, showing the malevolent journey of Douglass’s life, but showing it in a way the reader will be able to pull apart and analyze the important moments of history that is sprawled out in graphic color.

Just like the autobiography, I was able to really understand the problems colored people of America faced during the nineteenth century. The comic-style biography really enhanced the read for me, as it kept me intrigued throughout the read. It gave me a sense that I was there experiencing their reality due to the drawings. This book is definitely related material to the study of history as it is a biography to commemorate Frederick Douglass. Not only does it touch on his life, but it mentions many other significant figures of the time such as Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, and John Brown. These were the leaders that helped shape the way America is today and changed the course of our history. The book itself is a great novel, and would recommend to other students taking history as well as educators who have not yet touched on this book. It shows great detail of the important events that took place during this era and can be enjoyable for everyone that appreciate more color to their reads.

I enjoyed both books, but I enjoyed the graphic narrative a little more. The sole purpose being that our past was brought back to life with the colorful sketches that were used. It intensified the key events in the biography as well as kept me intrigued and willing to read on for long periods of time. I don’t believe either book is superior than the other, but more so they are uniquely different from each other. One is an autobiography, the other is a biography. One is written with limited images whereas the other is filled throughout with comic-style graphics. One was written and published a couple of centuries ago, the other was released just last year. As different as they are compared, they both have the same sort of message to the reader, and that is; We as Americans should be able to educate ourselves about the making of this country and how it has changed our present day. In a way, one is more interesting than the other and one is more formative than the other. This goes back to the style and the delivery of both books. The autobiography is more informative due to the fact that it was written by Frederick himself. It gives a more accurate representation of history since it is through his eyes and his experiences. The biography is more interesting in the sense that it is a graphic novel, the vibrant colors and intricate drawings catches the eye more. It is more in the eyes of people who did the research in order to make a close depiction of the history and life of Frederick Douglass. I believe not one was unnecessary than the other, reading both books gave me a lot of information. Together they both strongly showed Frederick Douglass in his life during slavery, his fight to abolish it, as well as more of how he naviagted and saw the world. His autobiography taught me how he saw the world and the graphic biography showed me how he navigated through the world he was in. If one was only used for the report I would go with his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.” I chose this because as fun as the other book was, I think without the comic-style novel, I would still get the same amount of information and a little more accuracy of the life he lived and get a better understanding of the things he did and accomplished.

Considering Frederick Douglass was the most photographed man in the nineteenth century, it show he was an important figure. His life story was different compared to others, he suffered from slavery, was able to escape to freedom, and continued the rest as his life as a writer, an orater, an abolitionist, and many more titles. Frederick Douglass alone has such a unique life story that he was willing to put his story out there to give others like him a sense of hope, and give future generations after him, like us readers, the answers as to why slavery was abolished and to never be returned in our future.

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The Autobiographical Elements In Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. (2021, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
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