The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass
Metal clanks against metal as the chains rub on old scars issuing in another day of toil in the heat with head-down and blood streaming as each new lash is inflicted. This is usually the picture envisioned when one thinks of slavery. While often this is an accurate depiction, there are also many other forms of slavery. The Webster’s Dictionary describes slavery as, “submission to a dominating influence.” Everyone has influences that shape who they are and what they do, but a problem arises when a person’s entire life is spent abiding under a certain, destructive influence. Often this is done willingly and a sort of addiction occurs in maintaining the hold the authority has in one’s life. It gives the person identity; all they need to do is live under the power they have created for themselves and make up the rules as they go along. Yet in doing this, they rob themselves of true freedom in knowing right from wrong and choosing the right. In fact, in this regard Fredrick Douglass is one of the freest men in his narrative. In the life story of Fredrick Douglass we not only see an African American man struggling against the oppression of slavery, but also many white masters struggling against their enslavement to reputation, power and religion.
First we see what it is to be a slave to reputation. Throughout the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass it is obvious that what others think matters a great deal to the slave holders. Although this may not make sense since they still do atrocious things to their slaves, there is a certain persona they want to convey to others. Mr. Covey was a harsh, cruel man, and everyone knew and respected him for being such. Covey had gained the reputation of being a slave “breaker” and had willingly enslaved himself to the notion. He spent all of his time and energy in maintaining this thought, going so far as to feign leaving just to catch a lazy movement and punish it. We know that Covey was a slave to reputation when Douglass explains Covey’s reaction to their battle. He remarks that he should have been whipped publicly for hitting his master, but he went unpunished. The only explanation Douglass had for this was that “Mr. Covey enjoyed the most unbounded reputation….It was of considerable importance to him. That reputation was at stake; and had he sent me-a boy about sixteen years old-to the public whipping-post, his reputation would have been lost (Douglass 51).” Reputation is a part of establishing one’s identity. It predicts future behavior (Morningstar 3). So we see Covey as a man so engrossed with the idea of maintaining his harsh identity that he suffers anything that upholds that status to be “right.”
Reputation affects the city folks also. Douglass remembers that just as the plantation owners prided themselves in keeping their slaves subservient, the urban owners boasted in giving their workers enough clothes,...