In 1845 Frederick Douglass published his own narrative called the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. In this narrative, Douglass stories his life as a slave and speaks about the brutality and the injustice of slavery. However, through his recollection, he only relates mere facts. The reasons for him to only state facts (names, places, times, events) was due to the pressing persuasion of his fellow abolitionists. They stressed to Douglass that only the facts matter to the public. Ten short years later, Douglass published his second narrative called My Bondage My Freedom. Although both narratives greatly accounted the details of Douglass’s life, My Bondage and My Freedom was written with elaborate details in each account. In My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass emphasizes his deep feelings and highlights his thoughts and views in an intense and thought-provoking manner.
Chapter 17 in particular, is an excellent example of the differences of accounts in both narratives. The chapter highlights an intense altercation between Douglass and his “master” at the time named Covey. Douglass was placed under the administration of Covey by his Master Thomas in an attempt to “break” Douglass’s apparently unruly behavior. Covey, who had a impeccable reputation of “breaking” slaves was able to instill a element of fear into Douglass before Douglass arrived at his plantation. The entire chapter outlines the circumstances surrounding a intense altercation. It’s important to note that in each chapter that Douglass narrates, something significant happens.
Of the many noteworthy events that appear in this chapter of Douglass’s life, I was captivated the most by the account of the scuffle itself. With each advance Covey made, Douglass countered with what seemed to be equal defense. Most interestingly, during the scuffle, one of the other slaves, Bill, returns to the plantation and Covey calls him to help get Douglass pinned down. Bill’s reply to Covey marks a significant turning point in the chapter. In both narratives, Bill simply replies to Covey stating that he is unable to obey Covey’s command to pin Douglass down because his own master sent him there to work in the field and nothing else. Although Bill acknowledges that he was under authority of a different master, the fact that he denied the commands of Covey was a major feat for a slave, and furthermore a significant blow to Covey. Although Bill’s defiance was highlighted in both narratives, another more significant event happened shortly after that was only accounted for in My Bondage and My Freedom. This detail left out was the appearance of Caroline, a slave owned by Covey himself. Surely she would not have been able to deny Covey’s command, but deny she did and though she suffered a few bows for defiance, she walked away a victor just like Bill. She saw the frailty of Covey’s threats and was more than willing to offer her own blow to him.
A question I ask is, why did Douglass leave Caroline out? Was he forced to leave it out because of the influence that the Abolitionists had? I believe that this minor detail speaks to more than just the event, but to the fact that this defiance highlighted the weakness that all masters had. Surely, since slaves are human just like whites, and they can be broken, the same can be said of whites being broken as well. The importance of highlighting Bill and Caroline shows the weakness and frailty of masters.
It’s most interesting that after years of meddling on this event since writing the first narrative, Douglass states in his second narrative that this event made him a MAN! Douglass could not consider himself a MAN until this defeat! It was his breakthrough and his battle was won. There would be no more floggings for him, he had risen above it. The brutality of slavery was now his past.