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My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass: Summary & Explanation

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  • 0:04 Who Was Frederick Douglass?
  • 0:35 The Abolitionist's Tale
  • 2:29 Breaking It Down
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
This lesson discusses Frederick Douglass and his second autobiography, ''My Bondage and My Freedom.'' It also tackles some of the challenges Douglass faced and discussed in his book.

Who Was Frederick Douglass?

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass would escape and gain his freedom by his 20th birthday. But rather than be content with his own liberty, he worked to gain attention for the cause of abolition, or the end of slavery. He was particularly gifted in his use of both the written and spoken word, making many doubt that he was ever a slave. With his first book in 1845, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass gained a large audience for his message on the cruelty of slavery.

The Abolitionist's Tale

While Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is much more well known, My Bondage and My Freedom answered many of the burning questions leftover from the first book. Published in 1855, a decade after Narrative, it expanded on many of the most intriguing points of the first book. Remember, both were autobiographies, but as Douglass wrote in his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, there was only so much information that he could reveal at a given time in hopes of not preventing escape by other runaway slaves.

Much of the earliest part of My Bondage and My Freedom focuses heavily on Douglass's early life. He writes about the differences in treatment between being a field slave and being a slave for a ship captain, saying that he was treated as an animal by the plantation owner but as a (hated) child by the captain. Meanwhile, he displays his humanity through an ongoing love for his future wife, Anna Murphy, a free black woman.

As in Narrative, it is clear in Bondage that Anna's freedom inspires Douglass to seek his own so that he can spend his life with her. His first attempt, in 1837, fails and lands him locked in a jail. The next year he arrives in New York City and compares the amount of life lived in one day free in New York to a whole year in servitude. Immediately, he sends for Anna and they are married. Eventually the two move to New Bedford, Massachusetts, a hotbed of abolitionist activity in the North, and begin to work to denounce the practice of slavery.

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