Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass,
An American Slave


Discussion Questions

Section A
1. In this section, Douglass relates that as a slave he desired to know his age, but he was not permitted to know it. Why would we want to know how old we are? Why would slaveholders not tell slaves their age? What might be the connection between freedom and knowing how old you are?

2. How does Douglass' story regarding his relationship with his mother reveal slavery's unnatural effect upon humanity?

3. What does Douglass' description of the overseer reveal about the conditions of slavery? How does slavery affect both the victims and the oppressors?

Section B
1. Slavery has often been said to not only corrupt the slave but the master as well. How does Douglass' story about Mrs. Auld illustrate this claim?

2. Why does Mr. Auld believe learning undermines the value of a slave? What is the relationship between education and freedom?

3. Why do you think Douglass is even more intent on learning to read and write after Mr. Auld prohibits such learning?

4. Why is the thought of being "a slave for life" harder on Douglass after he reads the Columbian Orator? Why does he envy the ignorance of other slaves? Why would learning make slavery more unbearable? What do you think is the relationship between freedom and knowledge?

Section C
1. How does Covey attempt to destroy the sense of hope among the slaves? Why is hope problematic for the slave-holder? What is the purpose of Covey's attempts to deceive the slaves? How is Covey attempting to limit any sense of freedom among the slaves?

2. Why does the fight between Covey and Douglass result in Douglass' victory? Why do you think Covey does not report Douglass to the authorities?

3. Why does Douglass argue that the holidays reveal the gross inhumanity of slavery?

Paper Topics
1. What conditions are necessary to support slavery? What was the greatest threat to the institution of slavery?

2. What are the most important lessons that Douglass learns about the character of freedom?

3. What are the major steps toward freedom taken by Douglass in the course of his narrative?

Narrative Reading

Guide to unit 4

back to unit 4