Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Best Narrative of a Life

Maybe you remember that I visited Frederick Douglass's home when I was in DC for Memorial Day weekend?  It made quite the impression on me and I was left thinking I'd like to know more about Mr. Douglass.  Fast forward (and rewind) to last week when I find myself looking the Narrative of His Life (by him) square in the eye at the bookstore.  That's all it took.

Here are my chief impressions, having just finished the book tonight:
  • The book began with ample Forward and Preface materials, all of which I dutifully read.  One of those two, the Forward or the Preface, basically summed up all the interesting stories from the slavery portion of the book (meaning 90% of the book).  If I could do it all over, I wouldn't have read the Preface.  Or Forward.  I'd have had Frederick tell me the stories for the first time.
  • Listen, how do I say this . . . I'll say it like this: I thought I knew everything about slavery, which is a ridiculous thing to think you know, but I at least thought I wouldn't learn anything new about slavery from the book.  Wrong.  I was constantly surprised by the things slaves were allowed to do (such as learn a trade and earn a wage, or travel to visit friends and family) that I didn't think they could do as well as the things slaves weren't allowed to do that I thought they could do (that list is long).
  • I didn't realize Douglass wrote the narrative when he was so young and just getting started on his career as an abolitionist.  As far as he's concerned, and the book is concerned, slavery is still happening.  Douglass's voice is strong, it is quite something to hear him reaching out across time to you, speaking from not-terribly old first-hand experience.
  • The book ends with a fellow by the last name of Coffin encouraging him to speak at a meeting of Abolitionists.  If I can lay claim to being related to the semi-fictional Coffins of Moby Dick, then I shall also lay claim to relation to the very non-fictional Coffin of this history.
  • Douglass follows the Narrative with an Appendix dedicated to distinguishing between Christianity and the professed Christianity of slave owners.  It's a good and insightful additional read and several of his statements/examples had me recalling Kierkegaard's Training in Christianity, which Kierkegaard wrote approximately three years after Douglass's Appendix.   
In sum, a good little book and it leaves you wanting to know more.  Because there's a lot more to the story of Frederick Douglass.  That's what I learned at his house.

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

sounds interesting. do you have? can i borrow?