Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Summary: Chapter V
Douglass does not work in the fields as a child because children are not strong enough. He has some free time outside his regular tasks. Douglass often accompanies the Colonel’s grandson, Daniel, as a servant on hunting expeditions. Daniel eventually becomes attached to Douglass, which is to Douglass’s advantage. Douglass still suffers, though. Slave children are given no other clothing but a long linen shirt. The cold of the winters so harms Douglass’s feet that he could insert the pen he now writes with into the cracks of his flesh. Children eat corn mush out of a communal trough, so only the strongest children get enough to eat.
At the age of seven or eight, Douglass is selected to go to Baltimore to live with Captain Anthony’s son‑in‑law’s brother, Hugh Auld. For three days, Douglass happily prepares to leave Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. He cleans himself thoroughly and is rewarded with his first pair of trousers from Lucretia Auld, Captain Anthony’s daughter. Douglass is not sad to leave the plantation, as he has no family ties or sense of home, like children usually have. He also feels he has nothing to lose, because even if his new home in Baltimore is full of hardship, it can be no worse than the hardships he has already seen and endured on the plantation. Additionally, Baltimore seems to be a place of promise. Douglass’s cousin Tom describes to Douglass the impressive beauty of the city.
Douglass sails on the river to Baltimore on a Saturday morning. He looks once back on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, hoping it will be the last time he sees it. He then sets his sights ahead in the distance. The ship docks at Annapolis first, briefly. Douglass recalls being thoroughly impressed by its size, though in retrospect Annapolis now seems small compared to Northern industrial cities. The ship reaches Baltimore on Sunday morning, and Douglass arrives at his new home. At the Aulds’ he is greeted by the kindly face of Mrs. Sophia Auld, her husband, Hugh Auld, and their son, Thomas Auld, who is to be -Douglass’s master.
Douglass considers his transfer to Baltimore a gift of providence. If he had not been removed from Colonel Lloyd’s plantation at that time, Douglass believes he would still be a slave today, rather than a man sitting freely in his home writing his autobiography. Douglass realizes that he may appear superstitious or self‑centered to suppose that providence had a hand in his delivery to Baltimore, but the feeling is still strong. From his earliest memory, Douglass recalls sensing that he would not be a slave forever. This sense gives him hope in hard times, and he considers it a gift from God.
Summary: Chapter VI
Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master.
Douglass is astounded by the strange kindness of his new mistress, Sophia Auld. Mrs. Auld has never owned a slave before and seems untouched by the evils of slavery. Douglass is confused by her. Unlike other white women, she does not appreciate his subservience and does not punish him for looking her in the eye. Yet, after some time, the disease of slaveholding overtakes Mrs. Auld too. Her kindness turns to cruelty, and she is utterly changed as a person.
When Douglass first comes to live with the Aulds, Mrs. Auld begins to teach him the alphabet and some small words. When Hugh Auld realizes what she is doing, he orders her to stop immediately, saying that education ruins slaves, making them unmanageable and unhappy. Douglass overhears Mr. Auld and experiences a sudden revelation of the strategy white men use to enslave blacks. He now understands what he must do to win his freedom. Douglass is thankful to Hugh Auld for this enlightenment.
Slaves in the city enjoy relatively greater freedom than plantation slaves. Urban slave owners are careful not to appear cruel or neglectful to slaves in the eyes of non‑slaveholding whites. Exceptions to this rule certainly exist, however. The Hamiltons, for example, neighbors of the Aulds, mistreat their two young slaves, Henrietta and Mary. The women’s bodies are starved and mangled from Mrs. Hamilton’s regular beatings. Douglass himself witnesses Mrs. Hamilton’s brutal treatment of the girls.
Analysis: Chapters V–VI
In Chapter V, the Narrative returns its focus to Douglass’s personal history and away from information or anecdotes about others. Douglass describes his own treatment on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. He is frank about the relative ease of his experience as compared to the adult slaves who worked in the fields. Douglass’s candor about the relative lack of hardship he endured as a young slave makes his whole account seem more realistic and truthful. He maintains this frank and moderate tone throughout the Narrative.
Douglass uses a striking image to describe the frostbite wounds he suffered as a child, as it dramatizes his doubleness of self. He describes how the pen with which he is now writing could fit inside the cracks on his foot he suffered from the cold. In the Narrative, Douglass typically maintains a dichotomy between his free, educated, literate self—which does not appear as a body—and the abused body of his unenlightened slave self. In his image of the pen in the gash, however, Douglass momentarily collapses the distance between his two selves, suggesting that the distinction between the two is not always clear.
Douglass’s relocation to Baltimore is the first major change in his life, and the shift of setting introduces the notion of the greater freedom of cities versus the countryside. Cities—and especially Northern cities—in the Narrative offer enlightenment, prosperity, and a degree of social freedom. Only in cities is Douglass able to connect with different kinds of people and new intellectual ideas. By contrast, the countryside appears in the Narrative as a place of extremely limited freedom. In rural areas, slaves have less mobility and are more closely watched by slave owners. This motif contributes to the movement of the Narrative: Douglass is symbolically closest to Northern freedom when in the city of Baltimore, and is symbolically furthest from freedom when in rural areas.
While Douglass’s Narrative shows that slavery dehumanizes slaves, it also advances the idea that slavery adversely affects slave owners. Douglass makes this point in previous chapters by showing the damaging self‑deceptions that slave owners must construct to keep their minds at ease. These self‑deceptions build upon one another until slave owners are left without religion or reason, with hypocrisy as the basis of their existence. Douglass uses the figure of Sophia Auld to illustrate this process. When Douglass arrives to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld, Sophia treats Douglass as nearly an equal to her own son. Soon, however, Hugh schools Sophia in the ways of slavery, teaching her the immoral slave‑master relationship that gives one individual complete power over another. Douglass depicts Sophia’s transformation in horrific terms. She seems to lose all human qualities and to become an evil, inhuman being. Douglass presents Sophia as much a victim of the institution of slavery as Douglass himself is.
The fact that Sophia is a woman helps Douglass’s portrayal of her as a victim of slavery. It is significant that the male slaveholders of Douglass’s Narrative, even Hugh Auld, all appear to be already schooled in the vice of slavery. Women, and Sophia especially, exist in Douglass’s Narrative as idealistically sympathetic and virtuous beings—a gender stereotype common in nineteenth‑century culture. Thus Sophia becomes, along with the slaves themselves, an object of sympathy for Douglass’s readers. The readers’ horror and regret for Sophia’s lost kindness reinforces their sense that slavery is unnatural and evil.
The first pivotal moment in Douglass’s mental life is in Chapter I, when he is initiated into the horrors of slavery by seeing Captain Anthony whip Aunt Hester. The second turning point in Douglass’s youth occurs when Hugh Auld refuses to allow Douglass to become educated. Before this moment, Douglass has known intuitively that slavery is evil, but has been mystified by the logic of how slavery works. Hugh Auld’s pronouncement that education ruins slaves enlightens Douglass. He suddenly understands that slave owners gain and keep power over slaves by depriving slaves of education and ideas. Douglass realizes that he must become educated to become free. The idea that education is the means to freedom is a major theme in the Narrative.
Douglass presents his revelation about the importance of education as a moment of both alignment with and opposition to Hugh Auld. Though it is Sophia Auld who has been teaching Douglass to read, Douglass values Hugh Auld’s lesson more. Douglass presents the moment as a rejection of feminine lessons in favor of masculine authoritative knowledge. Douglass further aligns himself with Hugh Auld by pledging to place himself in opposition to Auld. A series of rhetorical antitheses pair the two, such as “What [Hugh Auld] most loved, that I most hated.” Throughout the Narrative, Douglass’s progress rests on this focus on white male authority.