Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 4

My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!

This quotation, taken from Chapter X, shows Douglass’s focus on how he was made into a slave. In one sense, the Narrative is the story of a slave becoming free, but it is also the story of how men are made into slaves. As the structural center of the Narrative, Chapter X describes Douglass’s descent into the most brutal conditions of slavery and then his reaffirmation of his desire to be free. Douglass’s low point as a slave occurs during the first six months of his year with Edward Covey. Covey’s tactics in remaking Douglass into a slave consist mainly of incessant work and constant, brutal punishment. Douglass focuses on the mental and spiritual, rather than physical, consequences of Covey’s treatment. For Douglass, it is no mystery how slave owners are able to control slaves through physical debasement. The more mysterious process, and the one that Douglass is concerned with revealing and analyzing, is the way slavery dominates the mind and spirit of a slave. Thus Douglass shows that Covey’s brutality causes Douglass to lose intangible parts of himself, including his ambition to become educated. Similarly, Douglass presents his triumph over Covey later in Chapter X as both a physical and a mysteriously mental and spiritual endeavor.

This quotation also evinces Douglass’s talent for rhetorical flair. The four‑part repetition in the first part of the passage reinforces the way Douglass depicts his dehumanizing transformation. The final phrase of the sentence, “behold a man transformed into a brute,” contains a second‑person address to the reader, exhorting him or her to “behold.” Douglass frequently uses this type of second‑-person address in the Narrative. It suggests that the reader must participate in the text somehow, as a witness or a judge. Finally, the imagery of the quotation evokes common light‑dark imagery, in which light is positioned as representative of human reason and knowledge, while dark represents a subhuman, unenlightened state—here, the state of slavery.