The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
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The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, is
unique because Douglass, an escaped slave with no formal education, wrote
the entire account himself. As a result, Frederick Douglass is one of the
originators of the uniquely American genre, the slave narrative.
Douglass literary works are influenced greatly by his first book,
written by Caleb Bingham. Douglass first book purchase, The Columbian
Orator did more than teach him to read and write; The Columbian Orator
gives Douglass his first contact with vocalized anti-slavery issues and
influences Douglass orator skills allowing his words to reach a much
broader audience.
As a young boy, Frederick Douglass is sent to Baltimore to remain with
relatives of his master, Thomas Auld. His new mistress, Sophia Auld,
began to “teach [Douglass] the A, B, C” and “assisted [Douglass] in
learning to spell words of three or four letters” (1776). This “kind and
tender-hearted woman” (1776) instructs Douglass despite her husband, who
argued that educating slaves was unlawful. Though Mrs. Auld is not able
to continue teaching Douglass, she “had given [Douglass] the inch and no
precaution could prevent [him] from taking the ell” (1778). Once Douglass
acquires The Columbian Orator, his search for knowledge blossoms for he
knew the institution of slavery is wrong and these words on the page
“gave tongue to interesting thoughts of [his] own soul” (1779). Douglass
realizes that the “power of truth overpowers “the conscience of even a
slaveholder” (1779). By studying this work, Frederick Douglass becomes
convinced of the injustices of slavery and the right for all people to be
One story in The Columbian Orator would forever be an inspiration to
Frederick Douglass. It is the story of a slave who argues so well with
his master on the ills of slavery that he is set free. Douglass read of
an event he had never heard of in his life. A slave talks back to his
master with eloquent speech and is let go? To his astonishment, Douglass
observes that:
[T]he slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things
in reply to his master- things which had the desired though unexpected
effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation on
the part of the master. (1779)
This one story is monumental in effecting Douglass life because, much
like the slave in this story, Douglass stands up to his master and gains
a respect other slaves only wish they have. Douglass continually reads
this book for it gives him inspiration.
Besides the dialogue Douglass read in The Columbian Orator, Douglass is
introduced to proper, eloquent orator skills. This popular schoolbook
stresses the importance of an orators ability to communicate through
eloquent speech and proper body language. Caleb Bingham, writer of The
Columbian Orator, says the effects of eloquence serve:
[T]o scatter the clouds of ignorance and error from the atmosphere of
reason; to remove the film of prejudice from the mental eye; and thus
irradiate the benighted mind with the cheering beams of truth, is at once

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Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass And American Slave. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from