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African American Success

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"African American Success?"

"According to the American success myth, any individual who works hard with persistence and determination can achieve the American Dream, regardless of his or her economic or educational background" (syllabus). However, the brutality that slaves endured from their masters caused them to be denied their rights and individual success. In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Douglass has the ability to show the psychological battle between the white slave holders and their black slaves. "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man" (Douglass 107). Douglass shows this through his own intellectual struggles against his white slave holders. It is through education that allowed Douglass to understand how slavery was wrong, and how the Americans saw the blacks as not equal and only suitable for slave work.

"Our food was coarse corn meal boiled, which was called mush. It was put into large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied" (Douglass, 72). This clearly illustrates how children where treated like animals and their inability to act in a manner of a normal educated children. Slave children were also denied many luxuries that other children took for granted. The knowledge of their birthdays was one of these luxuries. Douglass states, "I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, springtime, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege" (Douglass, 47). This passage clearly indicates differences between white children and slave children. These differences started the process of fabricating the establishment for demeaning the child into a slave and removing them of their dignity.

Throughout the narrative Douglass uses the word 'brute', to form the image that slaves were nothing more than beasts. This is only one of the numerous examples in which Douglass creates the image of a dehumanized slave. Douglass states, "I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. 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!"(Douglass, 105). Douglass makes it clear to the reader that slavery degrades a man, and vanishes his manhood. According to Douglass, slavery transformed humans into beasts. Douglass was no longer a man; he was in every essence an animal transformed by the brutality of slavery into a mindless worker. The plantation was seen as a home for the slaves. They were also valuable property and the main tools of production. With this, we are able to see how the slaves were not looked at as people but as commodities, thus demeaning them into objects and not humans.

Frederick Douglass salvages his human nature though education and self-determination. When Douglass first got a taste of knowledge, he then understood the power in which it held. Douglass states, "I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty-to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man" (Douglass, 78). This was Douglass' first step towards freedom. He was learning what he had to do to get there, that was to learn and gain the white man's knowledge. Douglass says, "From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom" (Douglass, 78). This revelation came upon him after hearing his master, Mr. Auld reprehend Mrs. Auld for teaching Douglass spelling. Mr. Auld states, "If you teach that...nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him" (Douglass, 19). "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell" (Douglass, 78). Education and literacy would allow a slave to see that there was another way of living and were not inferior to the white man. Douglass became aware that the efforts of the whites were to prevent a power struggle from ever occurring by preventing the slave from thinking that equality could ever take place. Douglass set his heart on becoming educated, allowing him to challenge the power of the white man. Douglass says, " ... given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell" (Douglass 79). Thus the desire for freedom existed, by his understanding of power and its functions.

When Douglass was a plantation slave, he knew little of these facts and thus had no desire to escape. However, as Douglass was gaining intellect he was breaking the chains of his enslavement. Along the way to gaining intellect, Douglass faced many obstacles, many of which were brought about by slaveholders. Mr. Covey is an excellent example of a slaveholder who would do everything in his power to prevent his slaves from thinking



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