It’s easy to see that the cruel institution of slavery is very corrupt indeed. This is shown especially through the life of Frederick Douglass, who recounts in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass the many different masters he had to deal with. Although at first glance, some of them seem to be more sympathetic and understanding, in the end Douglass is forced to acknowledge that simply being a single part in the grand scheme of slavery will induce moral corruption in everyone.
The best example of this is when Douglass moved to Baltimore. His new mistress was Mrs. Auld, who at first appeared to be “a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings” (Douglass 19). He explains how she was so different than any other white women he had encountered before. She actually taught him the alphabet and educated him on the spelling of some short words. Douglass had never known a master, or even mistress, to willingly help a slave become literate. He remarked, “I was utterly astonished at her goodness” (Douglass 19). Part of the reason why Mrs. Auld was treating Douglass with such kindness was that the Auld family had not owned slaves before. She did not know what was considered proper treatment of a slave, and clearly Douglass recognized this in her charisma. She was simply a good human being, doing what she though was right. Douglass greatly respected Mrs. Auld this. However, her kindness didn’t last forever. When Mr. Auld found out that his wife was educating a slave, he was enraged: “if you teach that nigger to read, there would be no keeping him” (Douglass 20). He serves as a benchmark for the treatment of slaves. In fact, this was exactly how Douglass expected to be treated from Mrs.. Auld before he was pleasantly surprised. The family is showing its true colors regarding their attitude towards owning a slave.
Mrs. Auld’s “cheerful eye soon became red with slavery” (Douglass 20). By saying this, Douglass notes that her transformation has begun, as she becomes less and less receptive to Douglass and his desires to learn. He concludes “the fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work” (Douglass 20). He is asserting that the corruption of Mrs. Auld was inevitable. Douglass can see the hope draining from his future when he acknowledges that even the most sympathetic women is turning against him. He thought he gained her trust and that Baltimore wouldn’t be as bad as he originally thought, but was wrong. Simply being part of the system of slavery had corrupted Sophia Auld to the point that she couldn’t even talk to Douglass as a human like they used to; she could only speak of him as property now. Her husband’s great influence on her turmed her against Douglass, whom despite being a slave, was originally treated with dignity. Now, her kindness was left behind as the system of slavery transformed her morals to the point where even Douglass won’t trust any master again.
All in all, Frederick Douglass was the closest he had ever been to finding a friend in a mistress. Mrs. Auld was genuinely nice and taught him the alphabet and basic spelling. Unfortunately for Douglass, this wasa fluke. Mrs. Auld was about to be transformed into a woman just as cold as any other in the business. Douglass watched the inherent corruption of the system of slavery turn her away from him just as quickly as their relationship progressed. Ultimately, Douglass realizes that she was just as much a victim as he was; there’s no escaping the long reach of slavery’s nefarious influence.