During discussion in class today, while talking about the roles that women play in Frederick Douglass’ novel, I began to think about how much slavery truly affected the women of that time. Douglass explains that the women of the slave owners are very brutal towards the female slaves. At first, I wasn’t sure why the wives of slave owners were so hostile towards the female slaves. That was until I realized that the slaves were mistresses of their owners. This is like making a man’s wife live with the woman that he is cheating on her with and that is why the wives are so brutal towards the slave women. I then began to think about the corruption that comes along with the institution of slavery.
All people that are in a society with slavery, that don’t do something to actively oppose it, are being corrupted. The wives of slave owners have especially been corrupted by the institution of slavery. They seem to be more harsh on the slave women of the household more so than any of the other slaves. These wives have to spend countless hours of their days with women who have had relations with their husbands. Most of the slave women were either raped or used to bear children, and constantly beaten. On page 80, Douglass describes two slaves of Mrs. Hamilton saying, “of all the mangled and emaciated creatures I ever looked upon, these two were the most so.” One may think that the beatings that happened to these women could be from both of their masters, but later in the same paragraph Douglass states, “I do not know that her master ever whipped her, but I have been an eye-witness to the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton.” Douglass is painting a picture to capture some sort of sincerity in the readers. He is trying to show his audience that slavery is an institution, and that anyone who doesn’t oppose it is subject to the corruption that comes along with it.
Slavery can corrupt even the nicest, most pure people in the world. This was seen when Douglass first gets to Baltimore to his new Master. He describes Mrs. Auld as the nicest woman that he has ever met. However, once she mentions to her husband that she would like to teach Douglass how to read, Mr. Auld quickly tries to explain to her that by teaching Douglass to read that he would become “unmanageable, and of no value to his master” (78). Once she has the idea that she is a higher being and that she has power of Douglass, Mrs. Auld completely changes. Douglass says:
The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon (77-78).
Douglass explains this to his reader, once again, so that they get the idea put in their head that slavery is corrupting anyone and everyone who doesn’t do something to stop it. He is trying to get his audience to realize that the madness that was happening was going to continue until slavery was completely abolished.
I think that Douglass does a great job of grabbing the attention of the reader. He really gets emotions involved but doesn’t try to only get sympathy from readers. He wants the readers to become angry and do something to stop this way of life. He wanted something to happen, to make a difference, but he couldn’t do it himself when he wasn’t even considered human and that’s why he tried to get everyone involved in his fight against slavery.