American history of slavery was composed of numerous life stories of its contemporaries. We, those who live in the XXI century, can hardly imagine what really took place in the times when they lived. But there were some outstanding people who managed to commit to paper what they witnessed, for the next generations to be able to feel and realise the disgrace and cruelty of the very essence of slavery. Among them was Frederick Bailey (who later adopted a new surname – Douglass), the author of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”. I believe this story is a real masterpiece because it contains both striking evidence of human cruelty and disrespect towards slaves and an optimistic, life-asserting hope for the better future of those who suffered. Frederick Douglass was not daring to predict the future of the American society but he certainly did all he could to start an anti-slavery reform.
He himself was determined to be free and fought for this privilege with firmness and determination. Numerous slaveholders he met during his bondage all seemed to be of a different kind: some of them heartless, cruel and mean, others – relatively tolerant and humane. But in the essence they all were the same because no matter how they treated their slaves, they still approved of the system of slavery.
The life in the South of America was based of the “master’s authority” principle, which was usually a very cruel and inhumane way of doing business. The description of working from sunrise till sunset (and sometimes at night), the Sunday rest-day and the Christmas days-off very much reminded me of contemporary situation in American business. And though there is no slavery as it was in the times of Frederick Douglass, there is another type of it – the dependence of the employee on the “master” (employer) in terms of financial and social security. The loss of job would now very often be equal to loss of all important things and thus employees tend to devote all their time and energy to stay within the company (read “slavery”). But what I perceived might only be a passing resemblance of the state of facts.
What is more important, Frederick Douglass had to meet unbearable hardships to become a free man but he “should prefer death to hopeless bondage” and thus had no other way but to win. His life, work and determination served as the cornerstone of the whole liberation movement that, to some extent, still takes place in the United States. But there is a better day coming.
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Yale Nota Bene, 2001.