Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglassby Frederick Douglass
Page 2 of 3
WHILE READING THE BOOK
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
This section of the teacher's guide is divided by chapters, which parallel the chapters of the narrative. Further, it is subdivided by questions, quotations, and activities, many of which can be used across subject areas. Most of the questions, quotations, and activities can be used in English, history, and/or education classes. However, when one is more appropriate for one subject area than another, the subject area is indicated parenthetically. Questions are designed to help students comprehend the narrative and move beyond comprehension to analysis and evaluation. Quotations can be used as discussion starters or as writing prompts for response journals. Activities are designed for small groups to help students deal with the concepts in a more personal way.
The response journal technique is appropriate for all three subject areas. In it students respond to the quotations in writing. Teachers should encourage them to respond in a variety of increasingly complex ways. This will allow students to develop thinking and writing skills at the analytical and evaluative levels.
Levels of Student Response
A. Engaging: The articulation of the reader's emotional reaction or level of involvement, from "This is BOR-ING," to "I couldn't put it down," are called engaging. The first is called lack of engagement; the second engagement. However, the reader's articulation of her or his level of engagement with the text may be the first step in responding to it. For example, tell students, "Write about how the chapter makes you feel."
B. Describing: Restating or reproducing information that is provided in the text requires selecting some important aspect of the text and is often the next level of response. For example, tell students, "Select any quotation from this chapter, write about what you think it means."
C. Conceiving: Making statements about meaning or inferring from important aspects of the text. For example, tell students, "Write about this quote, discuss not only what it means to you, but what it means in relationship to Frederick's life as a slave."
D. Explaining: Explaining why the characters do what they do; examining their motivation. For example, ask students to explain why learning to read was so important to Frederick. Ask them, "What did he believe the ability to read would give him?"
E. Connecting: The reader connects her or his own experiences with the text. As in all responding to text, connecting is a recurrent movement between the text and one's experiences, knowledge, and attitudes. The reader may first recall a similar experience, next elaborate on that experience, next apply the experience to the text, later use the text to reflect on her or his own experience, and finally, interpret the text and the experience. For example, ask the students to write about a time when they felt like they were trapped. Now, they might write or discuss how this experience would have been different if they saw little hope of escaping. Next, they might write or discuss what they would try to do to escape. Finally, they might put themselves in Frederick's place: what would they do to attempt to become free?
F. Interpreting: The reader uses all the reactions above to interpret an overall theme or meaning of the text. For example, ask questions such as: "Why did Frederick write this narrative? What was the danger in writing it? When did Frederick conceive that freedom was a possibility?"
G. Judging: The reader makes judgments about the text: the truth of the text, the importance of the text, the quality of the text, etc. For example, ask student questions such as: "Why is this narrative still read today? Are there any lessons in it for you? Any lessons for the country?"
Sets the scene; Frederick tells us some of his early life and begins to explain life on the plantation.
- Why is Frederick not sure when he was born?
- What is Frederick's last name at birth?
- Why would slaveholders want to keep a slave ignorant of such a simple thing
as the date of his birth? (Education)
- Who were Frederick's mother and father?
- Why does Frederick make the point that a slaveholder who has fathered a
child is likely to be tougher on that child?
- Why does Frederick only rarely see his mother?
- Is Frederick's relationship with his mother typical of other slave children?
- What is the role of the overseer on the plantation?
- What is the relationship of the slaveholder to the overseer to the slave
on the plantation? (History)
- What do we learn about Plummer, the overseer?
- Who is Frederick's first master?
- Why does Frederick tell the story of Lloyd's Ned?
"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 to keep their slaves thus ignorant" (p. 21). [The intentional ignorance of slaves plays an important role in Frederick's understanding of the system.] (Education)
Chart the relationship of slaveholder to overseer to slave on chart paper. (History/Anthropology)
Discuss life on the plantation for slaveholder, overseer, and slave.
Describes the plantation system of Colonel Lloyd; discusses the daily existence of slaves on the plantation.
- Who were the family members of Frederick's master Colonel Edward Lloyd?
- What is the relationship of Colonel Lloyd to Frederick's master?
- Was there a pecking order among slaves? Explain.
- Why would a slave whose life on a plantation was very bad fear being sold
to a slave-trader?
- Why was Severe an appropriate name for the overseer? (English)
- Why is it difficult to find copies of slave songs?
- Why does Frederick suggest that slaves sing out of sorrow rather than out of joy?
"The same traits of character might be seen in Colonel Lloyd's slaves, as are seen in the slaves of the political parties" (p. 30). (History) *
Draw a diagram of the holdings (including plantations and slaves) of Colonel Lloyd. (History/Sociology)
Discuss with your group what you would likely possess if you were an adult slave on Colonel Lloyd's plantation. Now discuss what you would possess if you were a child slave. (Anthropology)
Write a diary and then make a chart of a day in the life of a slave. (Anthropology/Sociology)
Go to the library and find some songs sung by slaves. Discuss the meaning of these songs and examine if they were likely to be sung because of sorrow as suggested by Frederick. (English)
Relates several anecdotes that tell readers more about plantation life and the thinking of slaves.
- How did Colonel Lloyd keep the slave boys from taking his fruit?
- Why was it particularly difficult to be the slaves in charge of Colonel
- What is ironic about Colonel Lloyd's treatment of his horses compared to
the treatment of his slaves? (English) *
- What happened to the slave who told Colonel Lloyd the truth about his master?
- What is a maxim? (English)
Slave maxim: "a still tongue makes a wise head" (p. 36). (English)
Add to your diagram of Colonel Lloyd's plantation holdings. (History/Anthropology)
Discuss the prejudice that existed among slaves from different plantations. Examine the irony of this prejudice. (English)
Tells readers more about overseers and relates incidents of slave murders.
- Why is Mr. Austin Gore a "first-rate overseer"? What is the irony of this
description of him? What is ironic about his name? (English)
- What reason does Mr. Gore give for killing Demby the slave?
- What other examples does Frederick give of his statement "that killing a slave, or any colored person, . . . is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community" (p. 41)? (History)*
Maxim laid down by slaveholders: "It is better that a dozen slaves suffer under the lash, than that the overseer should be convicted, in the presence of the slaves, of having been at fault" (p. 38).
Discuss the system of justice on the plantation. How does this system differ from the system developed in the early days of the Union? (History)
Go to the library and do research on the U.S. justice system and people of color. Present your findings to the class. (History) *
Read To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee) or The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Gaines); discuss if and how the U.S. justice system changed in its treatment of people of color. (English) *
Examines Frederick's life as a slave child and discusses his leaving the plantation.
- What was life like for Frederick on the plantation?
- Why was Frederick so happy to be leaving the plantation?
- Why did he particularly want to go to Baltimore?
- What relationship did his new master have to his old master?
- Why did Frederick, who was seven or eight, not know the month or year of
- What were Frederick's initial impressions of his new mistress, Mrs. Sophia Auld?
"I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor" (p. 47).
Draw pictures of slave children in summer and in winter. (Anthropology)
On a map plot the route that Frederick followed to get to Baltimore. (History/Geography)
Discusses learning to read and explains its importance.
- To what does Frederick attribute the kindness of Mrs. Auld?
- What, according to Frederick, changes her?
- Why is Mr. Auld angry when he finds that Mrs. Auld is teaching Frederick
- Why does Frederick call Mr. Auld's forbidding his learning how to read "invaluable
instruction" (p. 49)? (Education) *
- Why does inability to read keep men enslaved according to Frederick and
to Mr. Auld? (Education)
- What does Frederick hope to gain by learning how to read?
- Who teaches Frederick why black men are not taught to read?
- Why is this lesson so important to him?
- Why is the life of a city slave so much better than the life of a plantation
- Why does Frederick relate the story of the slaves Henrietta and Mary? (English)
"If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master" (p. 49).
"I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty - to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom" (p. 49). (Education)
"In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both" (p. 50). (Education) *
"A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation" (p. 50).
Discuss the irony of what Mr. Auld taught Frederick when he forbid Mrs. Auld to teach him to read. (English)
Conduct a role play of Master Auld, Mistress Auld, and Frederick discussing Frederick's learning how to read.
Go to the library and investigate the education of slaves in the United States. Discuss: Was Frederick's situation typical? Why? Why not? (History/Education) *
Discuss: In education we refer to the school's "hidden curriculum," that which is not intentionally taught but is learned by the students. What are some of the "hidden curricula" in the schools you attended? How does Mr. Auld's lesson to Frederick relate to the concept of the 'hidden curriculum?' (Education) *
Examine the concept of reading as equivalent to freedom. (Education) *
Discuss how you might use this chapter with a class of middle or high school reluctant readers. (Education) *
Relates what Mrs. Auld learned from keeping slaves; how Frederick came to hate slavery and how he learned to write.
- How did Mrs. Auld change and why did she change?
- What plan did Frederick adopt to learn how to read now that Mrs. Auld was
no longer teaching him?
- Why is it ironic that he bribed the little white boys to teach him to read?
- What irony does Frederick find in this statement: "It is almost an unpardonable
offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country." (p. 54)? *
- What did Frederick learn from the book "The Columbian Orator"?
- How does Master Auld's prediction about Frederick and learning come true?
- How does Frederick learn the meanings of the words abolition and abolitionist?
- What do the two Irishmen encourage him to do? Why does he not trust them?
- How does Frederick learn to write?
- How does he trick the white boys into teaching him new letters?
"Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her [Mrs. Auld] of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness" (pp. 52-53).
Discuss the concept of learning as a curse rather than a blessing. Frederick makes this comment on page 55. Is it possible that he is correct? Readdress this issue after you finish reading the book. (Education) *
Write a diary entry of a memory you have about an early reading experience. Discuss how your experience differed from Frederick's.
Write about why learning to read is so important to practicing freedom. Discuss your writing in a small group. Examine the question: Did the slave owners understand that learning to read was important to practicing freedom? (English/History)
Discuss how you learned how to read and write. How did it differ from the methods used by Frederick? (English/Education)
Go to the library to find out how the colonists felt about education. Compare this to how slaveholders felt about the education of slaves. Why was education considered essential for white children in New England and illegal for slave children in the south? (History/Education) *
Discussion of slaves as property; plight of old slaves; return to Baltimore.
- Why was Frederick forced to return to the plantation after the death of
- How was the value of the master's property determined? How were the slaves
- Why was the division of property between Mistress Lucretia and Master Andrew
so horrifying to the slaves?
- What happened to Frederick's grandmother after the deaths of Lucretia and Andrew? How does this anecdote help explain the value of slaves? How are slaves valued
- when compared to livestock? [The ironic comparison of slaves to livestock
is a continuous theme of the narrative.]
- Who owns Frederick by the end of chapter eight?
- Why is Frederick forced to leave Baltimore?
"At this moment [valuation of the property], I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder" (p. 60).
Discuss John Greenleaf Whittier's poem (p. 62). Why does Frederick put this poem in his narrative immediately following the anecdote about his grandmother? (English) *
Go to the library and find other poems by Whittier. What other poems has he written about slavery? Why does Frederick call him the slave poet? (English) *
Trace the ownership of Frederick from the beginning of the narrative through chapter eight. Explain why he is owned by so many different people. (History/Sociology)
Moves to St. Michael's, Maryland, with Master Thomas Auld; the irony of the Christian slaveholder is discussed.
- Why does Frederick now know the date?
- Who is Frederick's newest Master?
- What rule of slaveholding does Master Thomas Auld violate?
- How did the slaves get food?
- Why does Frederick say that "adopted slaveholders are the worst"?
- What, according to Frederick, happens to Master Thomas Auld after his conversion
to Christianity? Why?
- Why does Frederick find irony in the fact that the slaves sabbath school
is discontinued? (English/Education) *
- Why does Frederick let Master Thomas's horse run away?
- Again, Frederick compares the treatment of slaves to the treatment of horses.
- How does Master Thomas propose to 'break' Frederick?
- Why is the use of the verb 'to break' ironic? *
- Why was Mr. Covey's reputation for breaking slaves of great value to him?
- Why does Frederick suggest that Mr. Covey's "pious soul" (p.70) adds to "his reputation as a 'nigger-breaker'" (p. 70)? *
"After his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty" (p. 67). [This is an important point that Frederick continues to make throughout the rest of the narrative.]
Frederick's contention that men use religion to justify cruelty is not new. Look for examples of this throughout history. (History) *
Frederick points out many ironies in this chapter. Discuss two of them. (English)
How a man is made a slave; a slave made a man.
- Why does Mr. Covey whip Frederick?
- Why are the slaves so fearful of Mr. Covey? Why does their work go on in
- Why is it "never safe to stop a single minute" (p. 73)?
- What does Frederick mean by "Mr. Covey's forte consisted in his power to
deceive" (p. 74)?
- Why does Mr. Covey buy a slave to use as a breeder?
- Why does he hire Mr. Samuel Harrison, a married man? What irony does Frederick
find in this?
- How does Mr. Covey succeed in breaking Frederick?
- How does Frederick succeed in again becoming a man?
- Why does Frederick go to Master Thomas Auld?
- Why does he return to Covey? Who convinces him to do so? What does Sandy
Jenkins suggest that Frederick do?
- How does Frederick win the fight with Mr. Covey?
- Why does Frederick contend that Mr. Covey does not turn him in?
- What would have happened to Frederick had Mr. Covey turned him in? *
- Why is Frederick's battle with Mr. Covey "the turning-point in my career
as a slave" (p. 82)?
- How are the holidays used to "disgust the slave with freedom" (p. 85)?
- Where does Frederick go after leaving Mr. Covey's on January 1, 1834?
- Who is his new master and how does he treat Frederick?
- Why does Frederick include the anecdotes about the two religious slave holders
Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Weeden? What point is he attempting to make? *
- Why and where does Frederick begin a Sabbath school? Why is it essential
that the slaves tell no one about it?
- What would the slaveholders like the slaves to do on the sabbath? Why is
- Why does Frederick decide to include the slaves in his Sabbath school in
his plans to obtain his freedom? Why is this dangerous?
- Frederick makes the point that many slaves would "rather bear those ills
we had, than fly to others, that we knew not of" (p. 93). How does this help
explain why so few slaves escaped?
- How do the slaves plan to run away?
- What is the purpose of the "protections" written by Frederick?
- What happens to their plan, and how do the "protections" nearly cause their
- What happens to each of the slaves who attempted to run away?
- When Frederick returns to Baltimore, what does he do?
- Frederick again decides to fight when he is attacked. What happens to him?
What does Master Hugh attempt to do for Frederick?
- What must Frederick do with the wages he earns each week as a caulker? Why?
"I do verily believe that he sometimes deceived himself into the solemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper of the most high God; and this, too, at a time when he may be said to have been guilty of compelling his woman slave to commit the sin of adultery" (p.74)
Read aloud and discuss Frederick's discussion of sailing vessels beginning with the last line on page 75 and continuing through the end of the first paragraph on page 77. Why does Frederick find the sailing vessels so abhorrent to watch? What do they symbolize for him? At the same time he finds hope in them. What is his hope? What are the sailing vessels a metaphor of? (English) *
Frederick talks about the superstition of slaves when Sandy Jenkins gives him the root to place in his right pocket. Go to the library and see what other slave superstitions you can find. What were the reasons for these superstitions? (Anthropology)
Discuss: Who beside slaves have superstitions? What are some superstitions> you, your family, or your friends hold? Where do they come from?
Read sections of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to find the superstitions of the slave Jim. Discuss why slaves are superstitious. Why would slaves attribute their deaths to trickery? (English)
Frederick makes the point that although he is still a slave "in form," he is no long a slave "in fact" (p. 83). Discuss how this is possible.
Beginning with the final paragraph on page 83 and continuing to the end of the first paragraph on page 86, Frederick provides his readers with an anecdote about the purpose of the Christmas holiday for slaveholders. Read this section orally. Discuss why slaves are given the Christmas holiday.
Frederick becomes an apprentice caulker. Research the apprentice system of education in the middle Atlantic states. Was it common for slaves or free African Americans to be apprentices? (Education/History)
Several times in this chapter Frederick refers to free colored men and women. Research the free African Americans of the South. Why were some free and most slaves? (History)
Again in the chapter we hear about the legal system and slaves. Research cases in which slaves were tried. What occurred? (History)
CHAPTER 11 AND APPENDIX
Escape from slavery; becoming a free man; involvement in the anti-slavery movement.
- For what two reasons does Frederick tell us that he cannot relate the means
of his escape?
- Why does he not approve of the underground railroad?
- What does Master Hugh do to attempt to encourage Frederick to continue to
earn money? What effect does his encouragement have?
- What does Frederick ask of Master Thomas? What is he told?
- What arrangement does Frederick eventually make with Master Hugh? Why is
this arrangement to Master Hugh's advantage? Why does Frederick agree to it?
- What does Master Hugh do when he discovers that Frederick has left town
to find work?
- Why does Frederick decide to work hard despite the dissolution of their
- When and to where does Frederick run away?
- Why does he feel so lonely?
- Who helps Frederick in New York? How?
- How is it possible for Frederick and Anna to marry? Why is their marriage
such an important event?
- Why does Mr. Ruggles suggest that Frederick not stay in New York and go
to New Bedford, Massachusetts?
- Who helps Frederick and Anna in New Bedford? What does he do for them?
- Why did Frederick change his name so many times? Who chooses Douglass? Why?
- What had Douglass believed about life in the North? Was he correct? What
does he find about life in the North?
- How were the wharves in New Bedford different from those in Baltimore?
- What conditions did he find for "colored people"?
- What does Douglass discover about prejudice against color in New Bedford?
- How does Douglass make a living when he can't find work as a caulker?
- How does Douglass become known to the "anti-slavery world"?
- Why is Douglass at first reluctant to speak out against slavery?
"I have never approved of the very public manner in which some of our western friends have conducted what they call the underground railroad, but which I think, by their open declarations, has been made most emphatically the upperground railroad" (p. 106). (History)
"I went in pursuit of a job of calking; but such was the strength of prejudice against color, among the white calkers, that they refused to work with, and of course I could get no employment" (p. 117-118). "There was no work too hard - none too dirty. I was ready to saw wood, shovel coal, carry wood, sweep the chimney, or roll oil casks, - all of which I did for nearly three years in New Bedford, before I became known to the anti-slavery world" (p. 118). (Education) "It [speaking publicly against slavery] was a severe cross, and I took it up reluctantly. The truth was, I felt myself a slave, and the idea of speaking to white people weighed me down. I spoke but a few moments, when I felt a degree of freedom and said what I desired with considerable ease" (p. 119).
Often Frederick has more than one master (i.e.: Masters Thomas and Hugh Auld; Master Thomas and Mr. Covey). Explain how this is possible. Discuss who actually owned Frederick.
Research information about the underground railway. What did it do? Where and for how long? Is Frederick fair in his criticism of it? (History)
Harriet Tubman also came from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, specifically Cambridge, just a few miles from St. Michaels. Go to the library and research her role in the underground railway. (History)
Research documented slave escapes. How did many slaves escape? Where did they escape to? From this can you guess how Frederick might have escaped from Maryland to New York?
Research slaves and marriage. Did slaves marry? How were couples treated in slavery? (History)
This chapter deals with the names of slaves. Notice that Frederick Douglass changed names three times. Discuss why he changed names. See if you can find out any information about the names of slaves. (English)
Read "Lady of the Lake." Why does Mr. Johnson who had just finished reading it choose the name Douglass for Frederick? (English) *
Douglass tells us of his attitudes about the north. Research attitudes about the north held by various southerners: slaveholders, slaves, free blacks, politicians, others. What made them believe these things about the north? How might these beliefs contribute to the Civil War? (History) *
Douglass makes the point that many of the ex-slaves in New Bedford lived better than average slaveholders in Maryland. Research the lives of ex-slaves in the North. Was his perception correct? Did they live comfortable lives? (History)
Douglass makes the point that he is initially uncomfortable speaking to a white audience because he still felt like a slave. However, with the encouragement of Mr. William C. Coffin he does speak and soon gains a new sense of freedom and ease. What do these points say to the teacher? There is a syndrome known as the Pygmalion syndrome. Look it up. What does it mean? How does it relate to Douglass's experience? (Education) *
Defense of his speaking out against the Christianity of slave holders.
- Why do you think Douglass added the appendix?
- What does he mean by "slaveholding religion"?
- Why does Douglass contend that the church turns the other cheek on the treatment
- How does he compare the slaveholding Christians to the Pharisees and ancient
- How does he criticize the church of the north?
"Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognized the widest possible difference-so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land" (p. 120).
Read orally the hymn/poem on page 122. What point is Douglass making by inserting this poem? (English)
Read and discuss the comparison Douglass makes of the slaveholding Christians of the South and the Pharisees and ancient scribes (pp. 122-123).
Douglass points to many ironies in how slaveholding Christians practice their religion (p. 123). Discuss these ironies.
Read aloud and discuss the parody Douglass "copies" on pp. 124-125. What is his intent of using it in his narrative? Why is the word "union" used throughout it? In this parody is he only criticizing the Christians of the south or is he also criticizing the Christians of the north? (English)