Summary: Chapter XI, Part 1

Douglass explains that the final chapter of his Narrative portrays the part of his life during which he escaped from slavery. He explains, however, that the chapter does not describe the exact means of his escape, as he does not want to give slaveholders any information that would help them prevent other slaves from escaping to the North. In fact, Douglass hopes slaveholders will become frantic with thoughts of unseen foes around them, ready to snatch their slaves away from them or hinder them in their quest to reclaim their slaves.

Douglass resumes his narrative in the spring of 1838, when he begins to object to turning over all his wages to Hugh Auld. Auld sometimes gives Douglass a small portion of the wages, which only confirms Douglass’s feeling that he is entitled to the wages in their entirety. Auld appears to sense this unfairness and tries to remedy his guilt by giving Douglass small portions of the money.

Thomas Auld visits Baltimore, and Douglass approaches him asking to be allowed to seek work on his own. Thomas Auld refuses him, assuming that Douglass intends to escape. Two months later, Douglass asks the same of Hugh Auld, who agrees, with the stipulation that Douglass must find all his own work and pay Auld three dollars each week to buy his own tools, board, and clothing. Though it is an ungenerous arrangement, Douglass looks forward to having the responsibilities of a free man.

For four months, Douglass hires his own time and pays Hugh Auld on Saturdays. Then, one Saturday in August, Douglass gets delayed at a meeting outside Baltimore and is unable to give Auld his wages until the next day. Hugh Auld is furious and revokes Douglass’s privilege of hiring his own time, fearing that Douglass will soon attempt to escape. In protest, Douglass does no work the following week, to Auld’s anger and dismay. Then Douglass resolves to escape on the third of September. He decides to work diligently until that date to keep Auld from growing suspicious. As the date of escape draws closer, Douglass experiences anxiety about leaving his many Baltimore friends and about the possibility of failure. Nonetheless, he carries his plan through and reaches New York City smoothly on the third of September. 

Analysis: Chapter XI, Part 1

Douglass’s explanation about why he does not describe the means of his escape elaborates on one of the Narrative’s main themes—the perpetuation of slavery through enforced ignorance. Douglass has said that slave owners keep blacks enslaved by refusing to let them be educated. Douglass presents this strategy as an aggressive, dehumanizing policy. In Chapter XI, Douglass turns the tables, refusing to educate slaveholders about the means of his escape or about how slaves escape in general. Douglass does not want slaveholders and slave catchers to stop slaves from escaping in the future. But Douglass’s tone also becomes impassioned, as he suggests that he also wishes that slaveholders and slavecatchers suffer in their ignorance. Just as ignorance dehumanizes slaves, Douglass imagines that ignorance about slaves’ means of escape will change slaveholders into hunted animals. The slaveholders’ panic and paranoia would be comparable to what slaves are made to feel. Douglass’s tone makes this wish seem vindictive, but it also expands a theme of the Narrative, showing that lack of knowledge robs people of their ability to control.

The second, implicit, reason that Douglass does not relay the details of his escape to the North is to protect the safety of those who helped him. Douglass’s account of the time of his escape is understandably conflicted as a result. Douglass acknowledges that he has friends and a fiancée in Baltimore, but he does not provide any information about his relationships with them. The only indication of how important Douglass’s friends are to him is the extent to which he suffers from their absence in New York City. This omission of supportive characters from the Narrative seems to be not only an effort to protect their identities, but also a concession to the conventions of the individual success story. The Narrative suggests that slaves are made on an individual level by depriving men of selfhood. The Narrative therefore shows Douglass’s quest for freedom as an individual accomplishment, achieved without the help of others.