“The truth will set you free.” Few words with much meaning, this popular saying is first seen in the New Testament, John 8:32. Directly from the context of the Bible, these words are used to refer to Jesus’s true disciples. Jesus says that the truth will open your eyes, and that the truth will also bring along freedom. Despite the obvious biblical meanings, these six simple words reference other parts of history as well. In the biblical sense, Jesus conveys the message that people are slaves to sin, and the truth will free people from their bondage. Very similarly, Frederick Douglass is a slave to whites in America during the 1800’s. Douglass also has bondage, which he describes through his life of physical and emotional abuse in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Throughout the book, the reader is made to understand the experiences and feelings of a slave during the time period. Frederick Douglass, however, is not like other slaves. He is a gifted human, and through his unique experiences, Frederick Douglass is able to discover many truths regarding life and slavery, and he is finally able to escape to freedom. The question remains, did the truth set Frederick Douglass free? Frederick Douglass’s experiences, education, and realizations open his eyes to the truth and ultimately freedom.
Frederick Douglass ‘s life experiences shape him as a man, show him the truth, and eventually lead him on the path to freedom. During the period of slaves, conditions are harsh, and rules are strict. Slaves are given poor living conditions, minimal food, and are not allowed to receive an education. By keeping slaves ignorant, slave owners’ jobs of managing is easier Most slaves do not even know their birth dates or ages. In his narrative, Douglass writes, “By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday” (Douglass 1). The amount of information that slaves have is compared to that of an animal; a horse. This is an example of the type of ignorance and dehumanization that slave masters wanted slaves to feel. Douglass continues to say, “A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood” (Douglass 1). Even as a child, Douglass does not understand why white children are allowed to know their birthday, and he is curious. As a child, his thoughts foreshadow the non- confirming adult he is yet to become. This is one of Douglass’s first experiences when he starts to question the truth and fuel the desire for freedom. Slaves are also often ripped away from their families at a young age.
Douglass writes, “I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life” (Douglass 2). Douglass hardly knows his mother, and his father is the white slave master. Because of Douglass’s father, he is given less harsh jobs compared to other slaves, and the narrative continues to let the reader see Douglass be shaped by his experiences. Another important example of an impressionable experience is Douglass’s fight with Mr. Covey (Douglass 42-43). Unlike most other slaves, who conform and act subordinate to slave masters, Douglass decides to fight back. Even more surprisingly, he wins. This experience especially proves to be a turning point in Douglass’s life and leads to further realizations regarding the way to freedom. However, before Douglass works for Mr. Covey, he is sent to live with the Auld’s in Baltimore. While living in Baltimore, Mrs. Auld teaches Douglass the ABC’s and to spell small words (Douglass 20).
This is yet another potentially life changing experience for Douglass because it is when he first begins to leam to read and write. Shortly after, Douglass writes in his narrative of Mr. Auld, “Now,’ said he, if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy'” (Douglass 20). Mr. Auld’s words really sink into Douglass’s head and create new ideas. From this particular experience, Douglass starts to realize the reasons for the ignorance of blacks and the corresponding power of whites. Each of these unique experiences all shed a little bit of truth and newfound ideas for Douglass.
Despite the norm, Frederick Douglass came to value education, which unleashes more truth and eventually freedom. The thirst for knowledge clearly starts after Douglass goes to live with the Auld’s and starts leaming to read and write (Douglass 20). Slaves are supposed to be illiterate, which is why Douglass is so unique. He has the interest, the determination, and the reasoning skills to succeed. Douglass is smart enough to teach himself, and he enlists white boys to help him finish leaming to read (Douglass 23). As Douglass becomes more educated, he becomes more aware of his situation, which makes him more troubled by it. He finds that for the other slaves, ignorance is bliss. “The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers” (Douglass 24). Through Douglass’s newfound literacy, his eyes are open up to the truth. He is more aware of the evils of slavery, and he is more aware of his own equal abilities. Education gives Douglass the freedom to think and grow as a human being. Knowledge is power, and Douglass’s educated mind is a free mind. Douglass also understands his self- potential and capabilities, which fuels his desire and strengthens his capability to also be physically free.
Through his life experiences and education, Frederick Douglass is able to make important realizations that open his eyes to the truth and to freedom. An important example is when Douglass fights with Mr. Covey (Douglass 42-43). After the fight, Douglass makes some realizations. “This battle between Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revised within me a sense of my own manhood” (Douglass 43). The fight instills some confidence in Douglass, as well as inspiration to be free. Douglass’s eyes are opened to different possibilities and truths, which can lead to freedom. Another extremely critical example is when Mr. Auld demands that his wife stop teaching Douglass to read on page 20 of Douglass’s narrative. The narrative further reads, “He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy” (Douglass 20). These words are coming from Mr. Auld’s mouth, and they create powerful thoughts in Douglass’s mind. “It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain” (Douglass 20). At this moment, Douglass comes to the realization of how the power of white men over black men works, and he states, “From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery from freedom” (Douglass 20). Douglass’s eyes are finally opened to the truth; the truth that can set him free.
In conclusion, Frederick Douglass’s experiences, education, and realizations open his eyes to the truth and ultimately to freedom. Each of Douglass’s life experiences shapes him in some way as a person, shows him pieces of the truth, and makes him a little more of a free man until his physical escape. Education gives Douglass the freedom to think and grow as a human being. Finally, because of a combination of his life experiences and education, Douglass is able to make important realizations regarding slavery and his own life. These realizations open his eyes to the truth, which, again, leads to mental and eventually physical freedom. Therefore, back to the biblical sense once more, in a way similar to sinners’ eyes being open to the truth and saved because of it, Frederick Douglass’s eyes are opened to the truth about slavery. The truth frees him mentally and eventually physically. In the end, the truth does set Frederick Douglass free.