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Answer To Bystander Apathy

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Abstract

Slavery was a major political, economic, and social institution that helped to shape our nation today. Although very inhuman and unjust, this period of cruelty towards the African people, who were brought over to the new world as prospects of property, did play a large part in molding the present American society. Much of the early literature pertaining to American slave trade was written and composed by the master slave owners themselves. This drastically tainted the true and accurate account of everyday activities within the life of a common slave. However, as time progressed, many free slaves who had endured tremendous hardships throughout their lives in order to gain their freedom began transcribing their own accounts within the brutal institution of slavery in the colonies. One of the most well-known personal historical accounts that depicts an individuals struggle towards awareness and freedom is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, who was considered as one of the most well known abolitionists during the 19th century.

What it Meant to Douglass to be a Slave

Douglass depicts the true life of a common plantation slave while attempting to express to the reader the true nature of the plantation owners in the south during the time period. Douglass places heavy emphasis on the tools of oppression, such as illiteracy, which kept the slaves completely ignorant of their own plight, and fear. These tools of empowerment were used against the African population to keep them naive and unaware of the true nature of the world around them; ultimately leading to their constant imprisonment and slave status.

During the latter part of his life he realized that fear was one of the main proponents to the white American men holding power over the slaves and decided that he would rise up and take a stand against his master. Four years prior to his escape to the north, Douglass faced a major crossroad in his life and came out the victor. One day while feeding the horses in the stable, Mr. Covey, an overseer, who was by far the worst that Douglass had ever encountered, made a hostile move towards Douglass for prior acts of deviance. Instead of being submissive Douglass fought back and overtook Mr. Covey. The battle with Mr. Covey was a turning point in his career as a slave (394). This encounter instantly changed Douglass’s way of thinking. From then on he vowed that he would never have a finger laid upon him by his master again. He came to realize that his internal conflict to overcome his oppressor was stronger than the fear of the whip. Mentally, his tendency to fear was overcome by his desire to be free.

How Slave Owners Perpetuated the Institution of Slavery

One of the most basic and most commonly used tools that helped to keep the African American population in the Americas under the shackles of slavery was the use of fear. During his adolescence, Douglass makes countless references to instances of physical cruelty towards his fellow slaves on the part of the masters he had previously had. The main instrument of fear that was used countless times was the whip. One of Douglass’s first accounts is when his Aunt Hester had gone out one night and had happened to be absent when the master called for her (343). This was young Douglass’s first time observing this terrifying act, and states that it is something he would never forget. It was all new to him and he was now encompassed in the bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation; he had lost his innocence at a very young age (344). Although Douglass was seldom whipped, the images of his family members and fellow slaves being beaten and scarred would be a major catalyst for his ever-growing desire to escape to the north and leave his life of servitude behind him.

Effects of Slavery on Southern Society

Not only does the slave concept of time reflect the desire of the masters to have the slaves view time in terms of work, but it also reflects the masters’ refusal to allow slaves to define themselves historically. Douglass writes that slaves were unable to articulate their ages, the dates of births and deaths of family members, and their lengths of service. He is also unable to form his identity based on familial relations. Suspecting only that his father was a white man and that it was often whispered that [his] master was [his] father, Douglass was unable to name, let alone have a relationship with, his father (Douglass 255). Furthermore, Douglass writes that he and his mother were separated when he was a baby, and that he was never able to form a relationship with her because he saw her only four or five times (Douglass 256). Finally, he was also lacking a familial relationship with his siblings. He writes that the early separation of [all of them] from [their] mother had well nigh blotted the fact of [their] relationship from [their] memories (Douglass 272). Under slavery, slaves were not given the rights to family that many slaveholders took for granted. Any slave relationship could end at the whim of the master. Each slave family stood the possibility of being sold away from one another and never seeing each other again. Slave women were forbidden from disclosing the identity of a child’s father if the father was a white man. If the child was descended from the master, he or she was considered no more human, and no more likely to be spared the trauma of being sold because slaveholders often bought women in childbearing years in order to increase the return on their investment when the children were sold. This created, on the part of Douglass, a lack of familial identity, which, as well as his inability to use time to create an identity, forced him to create himself in a way other than historically through education.

One of the other major submissive tools that Douglass addresses in his narrative is the practice of keeping the slaves illiterate. Douglass describes one of his mistresses, Mrs. Auld, as being kind of heart and compassionate. This woman first introduced Douglas to the alphabet. Mrs. Auld commenced to teach him A,B,C s and assisted him in learning to spell words (364). Soon after the their first few lessons, Mr. Auld discovered what his wife was doing and put an immediate stop to it, expressing that if she taught Douglass how to read, there would be no keeping him that it would forever unfit him to be a slave (364). After his experiences with the Auld’s on that particular day he expressed he had a revelation, an entirely new train of thought. Douglass came to realize on that day another tool of slavery, ignorance. By the white men keeping the slaves from being able to read and write they were

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