Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Summary: Chapter III
Douglass continues detailing Colonel Lloyd’s home plantation where he grew up. Lloyd has a large cultivated garden that people from all over Maryland come to see. Some slaves can not resist eating fruit out of it. To prevent them, Lloyd puts tar on the fence surrounding the garden and whips any slave found with tar on him.
Colonel Lloyd also has an impressive stable with horses and carriages. The stable is run by two slaves, a father and son named old Barney and young Barney. The Colonel is picky about his horses and often whips both men for minute faults in the horses that even they themselves cannot even control. Despite the injustice of this system, the slaves can never complain. Colonel Lloyd insists that his slaves stand silent and afraid while he speaks and that they receive punishment without comment. Douglass recalls seeing old Barney kneel on the ground and receive more than thirty lashes. The whippings are often performed by one of the Colonel’s three sons or by one of his three sons‑in‑law.
Colonel Lloyd’s wealth is so great that he has never even seen some of the hundreds of slaves he owns. One day, the Colonel meets a slave traveling on the road. Lloyd, without identifying himself, asks the slave about his owner and how well he is treated. The slave responds that his owner is Colonel Lloyd, and that he is not treated well. Several weeks later, the slave is chained and sold to a Georgia slave trader for the offense to Lloyd. This is the punishment, Douglass concludes, that awaits slaves who tell the truth.
Douglass explains that many slaves, if asked, always report being contented with their life and their masters, for fear of punishment. This suppression of the truth is common to all people, slaves or free. Slaves sometimes truthfully speak well of their masters, too. It is also common for slaves to become competitive and prejudiced about their masters. Slaves sometimes argue over whose master is kinder, even if the masters are not kind at all.
Summary: Chapter IV
The second overseer at Captain Anthony’s, Mr. Hopkins, is fired after only a short time and replaced by Mr. Austin Gore. Mr. Gore is proud, ambitious, cunning, and cruel, and his domination over the slaves is total. He does not argue or hear protests and sometimes provokes slaves only for an excuse to punish them. Mr. Gore thrives on the Great House Farm. His ensures that all of the slaves bow down to him, while he, in turn, willingly bows down to the Colonel. Mr. Gore is a silent man, never joking as some overseers would. He performs barbaric deeds of punishment with a cool demeanor.
One day, Mr. Gore whips a slave named Demby, who then runs into a nearby creek to soothe the pain. Demby refuses to come out of the creek, and Mr. Gore gives Demby a three‑count to return. When Demby makes no response after each call, Mr. Gore promptly shoots him. When questioned about his actions, Mr. Gore calmly explains that Demby was setting a bad example for the rest of the slaves. Mr. Gore is never investigated for this murder, and he still lives free. Douglass points out with irony that Mr. Gore is respected for his talent as an overseer.
Douglass offers several examples similar to Mr. Gore’s killing of Demby. Mr. Thomas Lanman of Maryland has boasted of violently killing two slaves, yet has never been investigated for the crimes. Also in Maryland, the wife of another slave owner beat Douglass’s wife’s cousin to death with a stick. The community issued a warrant for the arrest of the wife, but the warrant has never been served. Colonel Lloyd’s neighbor, Mr. Beal Bondly, shot and killed an elderly slave of Colonel Lloyd’s who was fishing on Bondly’s property. Colonel Lloyd did not complain about the killing.
Analysis: Chapters III–IV
Because the Narrative is both an autobiography and a treatise against slavery, Douglass often incorporates general information, including stories about, or heard from, people that he knew. Therefore, several of the opening chapters of the Narrative do not focus on Douglass at all. In Chapters III and IV, Douglass focuses on Colonel Lloyd’s impressive plantation. Such detail serves not only to set the scene for Douglass’s childhood, but also to verify the authenticity of the Narrative. We must remember that many nineteenth‑century readers—especially readers unsympathetic to the plight of slaves—would have doubted the authenticity of Douglass’s Narrative. The public was particularly skeptical of Douglass because he was more articulate than they thought a slave could be. Douglass extensively uses details of setting and character to reinforce the truthfulness of his Narrative, as Garrison and Phillips both point out in their prefaces.
As Douglass spends so much time describing scenes featuring other figures, such as Demby, the Narrative at times resembles a picaresque novel rather than an autobiography. Picaresque novels typically feature a series of episodes held together simply because they all happened to a single character. Douglass is still the character holding together his disparate scenes, as he either witnessed or heard about each of them. Douglass’s technique in rendering the scenes also invites the comparison to a picaresque novel. His depictions include novelistic detail, as when old Barney removes his hat to reveal his bald head before being whipped. Similarly, Douglass’s depiction of Mr. Gore shooting Demby has the dramatic sequence of fiction. Douglass shows us the scene, recounting each of Mr. Gore’s three counts and Demby’s reaction after each count.
Douglass also uses the stories of other slaves to make an argument about the inhumanity of slavery. After Douglass recounts Mr. Gore’s murder of Demby, he includes several similar stories, such as Mrs. Hick killing her female servant and Beal Bondly killing one of Colonel Lloyd’s elderly slaves. These additional scenes serve to support Douglass’s claims about slavery. Douglass is attempting to convince white Northerners that the events he witnessed—such as a white man killing a black man and suffering no legal consequences—are the normative practice. Supplementary scenarios reinforce this sense of commonality.
Perhaps the main theme of Douglass’s Narrative is that slavery dehumanizes men mentally as well as physically. To make this point, Douglass carefully documents the psychological violence of slaveholding. In Chapters III and IV, he focuses on the damaging effects of slaveholders’ inconsistency of punishment. He explains how masters often whip slaves when the slaves least deserve it, but neglect to whip them when they most deserve it. Douglass also offers the example of Colonel Lloyd meeting one of his own slaves, unknown to him, in the road. The slave speaks ill of his master, Colonel Lloyd, and is punished for it, but not until several weeks later. This delay of punishment makes the act seem separate from the consequence for the slave. In order to survive, then, slaves must become paranoid and must endure the feeling that they will be punished regardless of their actions.
Once Douglass identifies the mind games that masters play with slaves, he can explain the common actions of slaves as normal human responses under the circumstances. In Chapter III, Douglass addresses some of the less appealing characteristics and actions of slaves, such as prejudice and dishonesty. Douglass explains these actions as natural responses to the slaveholders’ treatment of their slaves. He points out that all of these traits are shared by whites and by all humans. Douglass attempts to make his white readers see the slaves as human beings possessed with both reason and emotion—as individuals whose actions are explainable.
When describing the career of the cruel overseer Mr. Gore, Douglass uses an increasingly ironic tone. Irony occurs when the implicit meaning of a statement differs from what is actually asserted. Thus, when Douglass says that Mr. Gore is “what is called a first‑rate overseer,” he implies that Mr. Gore is a good overseer only to those with no sense of justice. Douglass implies that reasonable people recognize that Mr. Gore is a cruel man. Douglass frequently uses this ironic tone in the Narrative to highlight the discrepancy between supposed and actual justice.