Edward Covey represents Douglass’s nemesis in the Narrative. Covey is a typical villain figure in that his cruelty is calculated. He is not a victim of the slavery mentality but a naturally evil man who finds an outlet for his cruelty in slaveholding. Covey is skilled and methodical in his physical punishment of his slaves, but he is even more skilled at psychological cruelty. While other slaveholders in the Narrative can be deceitful with their slaves, Covey uses deception as his primary method of dealing with them. He makes the slaves feel that they are under constant surveillance by lying to them and creeping around the fields in an effort to catch them being lazy.
One way in which Douglass portrays Covey as a villain is by depicting him as anti-Christian. The slaves call Covey “the snake,” in part because he sneaks through the grass, but also because this nickname is a reference to Satan’s appearance in the form of a snake in the biblical book of Genesis. Douglass also presents Covey as a false Christian. Covey tries to deceive himself and God into believing that he is a true Christian, but his evil actions reveal him to be a sinner. As Douglass associates himself with Christian faith, he heightens the sense of conflict between himself and Covey by showing Covey to be an enemy of Christianity itself.
As Douglass’s nemesis, Covey is the chief figure against whom Douglass defines himself. Douglass’s fight with Covey is the climax of the Narrative—it marks Douglass’s turning point from demoralized slave to confident, freedom-seeking man. Douglass achieves this transformation by matching and containing Covey’s own violence and by showing himself to be Covey’s opposite. Douglass thus emerges as brave man, while Covey is exposed as a coward. Douglass is shown to be capable of restraint, while Covey is revealed to be an excessive braggart. Finally, Douglass emerges as a leader of men, while Covey is shown to be an ineffectual master who cannot even enlist the aid of another slave, Bill, to help him.