The Development of the Self-Image in Black Autobiographical Writing (Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X)

Thesis (M.A.) 2006 122 Pages

American Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
2.1 Summary
2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques
2.2.1 The Genre of the Slave Narrative Historical Circumstances Typical Stylistic Features of the Slave Narrative Intentions and Purposes of the Slave Narrative Relationship between “Autobiography” and “Slave Narrative”
2.2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques of the Narrative
2.3 Textual Interpretation
2.3.1 “I suffered little from any thing else than hunger and cold” – Douglass’s Childhood on the Plantation
2.3.2 “A Sense of my own manhood” – Knowledge and Resistance
2.3.3 “I left my chains” – Escape and Freedom

3. W.E.B. Du Bois: Darkwater – Voices from within the Veil
3.1 Summary
3.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques
3.2.1 Black Writing at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Historical Circumstances Literary Forms, Strategies and Works Literary Influences Stylistic Features
3.2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques of Darkwater
3.3 Textual Interpretation
3.3.1 “Thank God! no ‘Anglo-Saxon’” – Du Bois as a Victim of Racial Oppression and as Black Leader
3.3.2 “It is the mother I ever recall” – Du Bois's Concern for Women
3.3.3 “Awake, O ancient race!” – Du Bois and his African Roots

4. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
4.1 Summary
4.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques
4.2.1 Black Literature in the 1960’s Historical Circumstances for Writing Literary Forms, Strategies and Works The Autobiographical Genre vs. Black Autobiographies The Conversion or Educational Narrative Other Genres for Classifying The Autobiography
4.2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques of The Autobiography of Malcolm X
4.3 Textual Interpretation
4.3.1 From “Mascot” to “Hustler”: Childhood and Adolescence
4.3.2 From “Satan” to “Minister Malcolm X”: Convert and Black Muslim
4.3.3 “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz”: Malcolm and his Break with the “Nation of Islam”

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Is white America really sorry for her crimes against the black people? Does white America have the capacity to repent – and to atone? Does the capacity to repent, to atone, exist in a majority, in one-half, in even one-third of American white society? Many black men, the victims – in fact most black men – would like to be able to forgive, to forget, the crimes. But most American white people seem not to have it in them to make any serious atonement – to do justice to the black man.

– From The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) –[1]

Who and what are blacks in the United States and what has white America done to them? In 2004, 37,502,000 out of a total population of 293,655,000 Americans were of African-American origin.[2] Blacks thus statistically represent 12.77 per cent of the US population. They have been a crucial group for the country ever since they first set foot on American ground. They are the foundation of American wealth and the victims of a long tradition of forced labor and racism. For centuries they have faced whites’ racism and nevertheless have stayed in the country. The history of blacks is the history of a people brought to its present location against its own free will. However unbelievable and cruel their past has been, blacks’ importance for American culture nowadays is enormous. Blacks win gold medals for the US Olympic Team and dominate the national sports leagues; black musicians lead the American charts; black actors receive awards for their movie appearances and a black politician, Condoleezza Rice, has even become Secretary of State under President Bush. Their road to success, however, has been marked by a long and tiring struggle, a search for an identity in a society that has for centuries regarded and treated blacks as inhuman property.

These “crimes against the black people” that Malcolm X mentioned above is what African-American authors write about in their literature. For white readers, their books are often like a sting from a bee and not easy to cope with. But their accounts are worth reading. Nowhere else will you find a more honest description of what it feels like to be black in a country founded on the premise that “All men are created equal”. A country that for generations simply would not accept the fact that blacks might demand that right, as well. Of course, white writers have also tried to bring the plight of African-American to public attention. We might think of Mark Twain’s “nigger” Jim in Huckleberry Finn, or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin which both, albeit with differently shaped characters, have impressive messages to convey. But only literature by black writers is really able to evaluate the harsh reality of being a “slave”, a “nigger”, a “negro”, a “colored person” or an “African-American”. Only those who for centuries have been addressed with these formerly derogative, nowadays somehow more respectful labels really have something to say about their feelings. The aim of this study on the development of the self-image in black autobiographical writing is to discover who and what blacks are, what has been done to them and how they convey their messages through literature.

In black writing, autobiography inhabits a special position. Ever since slavery, autobiographical accounts by African-Americans have thereby developed away from the classic examples of the genre. According to Stephen Butterfield, unlike Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and other “classic” white American personal narratives, black autobiography cannot simply be categorized as a “kind of manual of how to achieve power, wealth, and fame”.[3] It is crucial to know that by writing a personal memoir, African-Americans do more than simply summarize their lives or give their readers advice on how to behave themselves. Rather, black autobiographies often provide their African-American readers with a sense of group identity and attempt to give a meaning to their existences. Butterfield best describes the special status of African-American autobiography:

The self is conceived as a member of an oppressed social group, with ties and responsibilities to the other members. It is a conscious political identity, drawing sustenance from the past experience of the group, giving back the iron of its endurance fashioned into armor and weapons for the use of the next generation of fighters. […] The appeal of black autobiographies is in their political awareness, their empathy for suffering, they ability to break down the division of “I” and “you”, their knowledge of oppression and discovery of ways to cope with that experience, and their sense of shared life, shared triumph, and communal responsibility. The self belongs to the people, and the people find a voice in the self.[4]

While each of the chosen works of this study will be set in relation to white autobiographies and compared to some of them in the respective chapters, the reader of this thesis shall keep in mind the special meaning of black autobiographies.

What is more, not only are black autobiographical writings important in providing a communal experience for African-Americans, they also give their white readers something to think about. One does not necessarily need to visit the places where Douglass, Du Bois and Malcolm X lived to gain new insights into the, to some extent still existing, American racial dilemma. Their, and other African-Americans’ autobiographies can also prove to be of some value to white students and scholars by a close reading. Although written in 1974, Stephen Butterfield’s articulation of black autobiographical writings’ special meaning for non-blacks is still valid more than thirty years later:

They help us to see what has been left out of the picture of our national life by white writers and critics, how our critical judgment has been limited, indeed, crippled, by a blind spot toward Afro-American culture […] To read closely what they have to say, to allow their message entry into the bloodstream and vital nerve centers, is to look the monster of slavery and racism full in the face, to confront it nakedly, without the shield of interpretation by white historians. Knowledge of the sins of the fathers is a terrible burden for the children of pirates, murderers, kidnappers, rapists, for the children of those who received the benefits of stolen labor and genocide and closed their eyes, perhaps with a humanitarian shudder, to its effects.[5]

In the development of black autobiographical writing until the publication of Malcolm X’s memoir in 1965, we can discern three phases. While each of these periods will be discussed in more detail in their respective chapters, a short introduction shall be provided here. This categorization again refers to Stephen Butterfield’s Black Autobiography. Accordingly, the first discernible era is the “slave narrative Period”, lasting from approximately 1831 to 1895. The autobiographies by blacks from this time are “eyewitness accounts of the furnace of misery in the Old South that supplied raw materials for the Industrial Revolution” and the stories they write are “as vivid as the ones engraved on their backs”.[6] Following this first phase of black autobiographical writing is the “Period of Search” (ca. 1901-1961). It is an era marked by a “deep alienation and identity crisis in black writing”. Furthermore, “no single literary structure dominates the books” and the “question of what and how to resist had become much more complex”.[7] The last of the three eras of black autobiographical writings to be discussed in this thesis is the “Period of Rebirth” (1961 – 1974). It is characterized by a “reawakened political commitment” and is “no longer a time of middle class alienation and introspection”. Instead, “the black masses took the initiative, forcing the middle class to respond to their militance one way or the other”.[8]

A book from each of these three periods is included in this study. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself[9] shall thereby be representative of the “slave narrative Period”. One can undoubtedly regard his life-story as an eyewitness account of the cruelties of slavery. The “Period of Search” is represented by W.E.B. Du Bois’s Darkwater. Voices From Within the Veil[10], a book remarkable for its incorporation of a variety of literary structures. Finally, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a representative of black autobiographical works of the politically committed “Period of Rebirth” shall be the subject of discussion.

The reasons for the selection of these exact three autobiographical writings are diverse. Douglass’s Narrative is among the books representative of the history of black American writing. In comparison to other slave autobiographies like The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789) or the Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself (1849), Douglass’s account of his life in captivity is a more than realistic picture of slavery than I had ever read before. Moreover, it is the slave narrative that has been discussed by scholars more than any other representative of the genre.

In the overall history of black literature, W.E.B. Du Bois is almost always mentioned, too, and I therefore decided to read his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois’s style and eloquence still today account for his popularity. In comparison to other publications by African-American authors of his time, most notably Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, Du Bois’s uncompromising language and demands make him an outstanding figure in the black struggle for recognition. As one of his lesser known publications, Darkwater is worth comparing to Frederick Douglass’s work because it exhibits a similarly demanding attitude towards whites and their racism. Moreover, it is an especially noteworthy volume since it encompasses a variety of literary structures, such as autobiography, essay or poetry. It is therefore well suited to represent the black autobiographical writings of the beginning twentieth century.

To complete the assortment of African-American autobiographies, I wanted to discuss another book more recent. The Autobiography of Malcolm X instantly caught my attention. His turbulent life-story, revolutionary style and strong accusations of American culture make Malcolm X’s memoir an adequate book to analyze representative African-American thought of the 1960’s. As is typical of this time, The Autobiography also exhibits the reawakened political commitment of blacks in that era. In the overall canon of black literature, his book is almost always referred to as an outstanding historical and literary document. Moreover, in 1992 its famous movie adaptation by director Spike Lee again brought Malcolm X to public attention. Although already more than 40 years have passed since the charismatic black leader was shot dead, his memoir today still stands as the testimony of a person worth remembering.

Besides the three primary texts, this study incorporates and evaluates scholarly thought from essays written specifically on one of the three books as well as general surveys of black (autobiographical) literature. The range of available secondary literature on Douglass, Du Bois and Malcolm X is enormous. Since this thesis paper will simultaneously discuss the formal and thematic development of black autobiographical writing, both types of literary analyses are included. For Frederick Douglass’s Narrative, I found a very comprehensive collection of suitable essays in Sekora and Turner’s The Art of the slave narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory.[11] This collection has proved crucial for chapter two of my study since it includes literary analyses of both the genre and of Douglass’s work from different times and features a broad variety of scholarly discussions. Another book worth mentioning for the analysis of slave narratives and Frederick Douglass’s memoir is Davis and Gates’s standard work, The Slave’s Narrative[12]. It offers an extensive overview of some basic characteristics of the genre and also provides further interesting and sometimes contradicting textual interpretations of Douglass’s work.

While the amount of secondary literature on W.E.B. Du Bois is enormous, there are very few essays written specifically on Darkwater. Helpful for the discussion of interesting thematic and formal aspects of the second book of this thesis has been especially William L. Andrews’s Critical Essays on W.E.B. Du Bois[13]. This collection of essays offers valuable insights into Du Bois’s works. More general evaluations of the African-American’s writings are included through Arnold Rampersad’s The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois.[14] This book by the renowned critic of black literature is a comprehensive foundation for an interpretation of interesting aspects of Du Bois’s memoir. Besides these important secondary texts on Darkwater or on the author in general, I will also refer to two biographies on the famous African-American: Jack B. Moore’s W.E.B. Du Bois[15] and David Levering Lewis’s W.E.B. Du Bois – Biography of a race, 1968-1919.[16] They both help to better comprehend some of the more complicated excerpts from Darkwater. Moreover, these books provide the important biographical background that is sometimes missing in Du Bois’s collection of essays and poems from 1920. In order to analyze more intensely some of the stylistic peculiarities of black autobiographical writing at the turn of the last centuries, I am referring to Dickinson D. Bruce’s Black American Writing from the Nadir: The Evolution of a Literary Tradition, 1877-1915[17] and, again, Stephen Butterfield’s Black Autobiography. Finally, Devon Boan’s The Black “I”: Author and Audience in African American Literature[18] shall serve to explain some basic narrative techniques of black authors.

The secondary literature on The Autobiography of Malcolm X and black writing of the 1950’s and 1960’s is again very comprehensive. Consequently, I had to limit my selection. Again, Stephen Butterfield’s Black Autobiography has been of special value since it provides a more general overview of the development of African-American autobiographies and further helps in the categorization of The Autobiography. Another crucial work on the importance of autobiography for blacks is Kenneth Mostern’s Autobiography and Black Identity Politics: Racialization in Twentieth-Century America.[19] It offers an explanation of the political meaning of being black during Malcolm’s time and is therefore of utmost importance for this thesis. In the choice of secondary literature, the groundbreaking analysis “Malcolm X and the Limits of Autobiography”[20] by John Paul Eakin is included, as well. In almost all essays on Malcolm X’s memoir, scholars refer to Eakin’s observations that have helped to redefine the genre. Carol Ohmann’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: A Revolutionary Use of the Franklin Tradition”[21] also proved valuable in the discussion of the book since it relates Malcolm’s work to one of the most famous classic American autobiographies. Finally, an essay that is of utmost importance for the discussion of structural aspects of Malcolm’s memoir is Alex Haley’s “Epilogue”,[22] which directly follows the actual autobiography.

To better place these autobiographical writings in their respective historical contexts I will refer to the book From Freedom to Slavery. A History of African Americans[23] by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., throughout my thesis. It offers an extensive survey of black history and both scholars are highly esteemed in academic circles. With the aid of this book, the three autobiographical writings shall be more accurately classified into the historical circumstances in which they were written.

The structure of this thesis paper is organized as follows: Following this introduction, each of the three black autobiographical writings will be discussed in chronological order. I will therefore begin with Frederick Douglass’s Narrative from 1845, continue with W.E.B. Du Bois’s Darkwater from 1920 and finish with The Autobiography of Malcolm X from 1965. The purpose of this chronological organization is to better trace the development of black autobiographical writing over the period of 120 years. Each autobiography’s discussion is itself then divided up into three distinguishable components. At first, I will give a summary of each memoir in order to provide a background against which the further stylistic and thematic discussions can be attempted. Secondly, the historical circumstances, basic structure and narrative techniques of the respective eras of black autobiographical writing and of the specific works will be discussed. The purpose is to closely look at typical features (or, in the case of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, genres) of black autobiographical writings in each period and then, in a second step, analyze each work’s specific stylistic and narrative peculiarities. The third and last component of each autobiography’s discussion is a close textual interpretation. It shall analyze the development of the self-image of each author as presented in his autobiographical work. Eventually, after the analysis of these three black autobiographies I will synthesize my observations in the Conclusion of this thesis paper.

The eventual aim of this study is to prove the three elements of my thesis. First of all, I want to demonstrate that African-Americans have written autobiographies to comment on the unjust societies they have been living in since slavery. Secondly, I will prove that the three distinguishable stages of black autobiographical writing are best represented by my selection of books. And finally, we will see that the self-images of the authors as presented to the reader in these works show similarities in many respects, and thus continuity in the status of African-Americans in US society is visible.

2. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The narrative of Douglass contains the life of a superior man [...] He has [...] the vividness of sensibility and of thought which we are accustomed to associate with a Southern climate. He has a natural and ready eloquence, a delicacy of taste, a quick perception of properties, a quick apprehension of ideas, and a felicity of expression, which are possessed by few among the more cultivated, and which are surprising when we consider that it is but a few years since he was a slave.

– Ephraim Peabody in 1849 on the Narrative –[24]

The first work in this study on the development of the self-image in black autobiographical writing to be discussed in this thesis is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. Published in 1845, it is regarded by many critics and scholars as one of the most important works of the genre of slave narratives. Ephraim Peabody, writing in 1849 about slave narratives in general and Douglass’s work in particular, articulated the overall impact of this literary form on public opinion at that time:

We place these volumes without hesitation among the most remarkable productions of the age, – remarkable as being pictures of slavery by the slave, remarkable as disclosing under a new light the mixed elements of American civilization, and not less remarkable as a vivid exhibition of the force and working of the native love of freedom in the individual mind.[25]

Hence, it is not surprising that Douglass’s Narrative has become required reading for students and scholars of American Literature alike. By some, it is even regarded as “the font of prodigious scholarly debate and interpretation”.[26] Written by a man who only seven years before had escaped from the bonds of slavery and who never had experienced any education in the white man’s sense of the word, the Narrative is a document with both historical and literary significance worthy of discussion.[27]

In the context of this paper then, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass shall be representative of a first discernible form of black autobiographical writing – the slave narrative. As James Olney observes, Douglass’s work can be regarded as “the greatest of them all”, following “quite closely” the typical outline of the genre.[28] It is from such statements by renowned scholars and personal acquaintance with the text that I have chosen Douglass’s Narrative as a starting point in the discussion of the development of the self-image in black autobiographical writing. Dozens of critics have attested to its influence on later black writing[29] which can without a doubt be considered enormous.

In order to structure the paper more clearly, the following approach to the subject was chosen: As with the two other autobiographies of this thesis, a brief summary of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative in chapter 2.1 shall introduce the reader to his life. Chapter 2.2 then presents and discusses the genre of the slave narrative in more detail. In addition, the question of how well Douglass’s work fits into this literary field will be raised and answered there. The last part of the discussion of the Narrative is a close textual interpretation of some crucial scenes of the book in chapter 2.3. The purpose of this textual interpretation is to clarify how Douglass’s identity changes during the time described in the Narrative. What did it mean to be a slave in the antebellum South? How well did Douglass cope with his situation? What strategies did he adopt to survive, and how was his decision to escape towards freedom influenced? The textual interpretation will answer these questions and shall end the discussion on the Narrative.

2.1 Summary

The story of the life of Frederick Douglass is the first autobiography written by the former slave and was published in 1845.[30] It spans the first part of his life, ranging from his birth (presumably in 1818) until his safe escape from slavery in 1838. Douglass is born to a black mother and a white father who is most likely his first master, Captain Anthony, as well. Young Frederick, who is named Frederick Bailey during his time in slavery, grows up on Colonel Edward Lloyd’s plantation in Tuckahoe, Talbot County, Maryland. Here, as a young child, he does not suffer too many hardships from slavery, although he is separated from his mother at an early age. He attests this is a standard procedure in slavery and surprisingly does not cause him too much pain. His first introduction to the cruelties of slavery takes place when he witnesses the whipping of his aunt Hester. Also, while still a child, Douglass sees fellow slaves being killed for no obvious reasons. Therefore, he learns about the tough life of slaves, even though he himself does not have to endure it as a young child. Life for Douglass at the “Great House Farm” is thus fairly acceptable.[31]

After Captain Anthony dies, his daughter Lucretia Auld inherits half of his riches, including the little slave boy Frederick. Shortly before his death, Anthony decides that Douglass should leave for Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld, the brother of Lucretia Auld’s husband, Captain Thomas Auld. Full of joy at the prospect of change, and without any sorrow over the departure from his old “home”, young Frederick leaves for the city. It is here that he undergoes one of the most important experiences of his life: He learns to read. However, after some basic lessons in the alphabet by his new mistress Sophia Auld, her husband strictly forbids her to teach their slave any more. Still, the foundation for Douglass’s first steps towards literacy is laid. He realizes the importance of this ability and sets out with a determination to learn. Not being taught by his mistress anymore, young Frederick takes advantage of his little white friends in Baltimore who, in return for some bread, give him more lessons in reading.[32]

During his stay at the Auld’s home, Douglass first realizes the possibility of being a slave for life – a thought that haunts him. Also, the reading skills he has now acquired torment the young black boy even more. They are both a blessing and a curse for him. Being able to read arguments against slavery in the magazine Liberator in the Auld’s home, he starts to detest his wretched condition even more. Nevertheless, his spirit rises again when he eventually learns to write as well.[33] Around the age of ten, Douglass is sent back to the “Great House Farm” where all of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves are being evaluated. Comparable with an auction of oxen or sheep, the young boy fears for his future and hopes not to be sold into the even more cruel slavery system of the Deep South. Once again, however, Douglass luckily is at first sent back to Baltimore to live with Master Hugh. Only a short time later his mistress in Tuckahoe, Lucretia Auld, dies leaving all her property in the hands of strangers. This death has consequences for Douglass as well: He has to leave Baltimore and must live with Captain Thomas Auld, husband of the deceased Lucretia, at St. Michael’s. There, his situation becomes worse.[34]

Though a professing Christian, Master Thomas treats his slaves cruelly, including Douglass. To make things even worse, the protagonist of the Narrative is lent to the “slave breaker” Mr. Covey for a year. His new master, Thomas, suggests that he has been spoiled by city life and, as a remedy, that be begin work as a field hand. Here Frederick labors, always under surveillance by Covey, who has a reputation as a “nigger breaker”. It is here that he experiences his most malicious treatment as a slave. Already in the first week, Douglass escapes death twice after losing control over two oxen, is whipped severely and seems to be lost in the hell of slavery forever. The first six months of his stay at Mr. Covey’s break the boy’s once high spirit completely. After another tough punishment by Covey, however, Douglass escapes to the woods and runs to his owner, Master Thomas, to ask him for protection.[35]

Unfortunately, his plea is not successful. Upon his return to St. Michael’s, Douglass is whipped again and runs away another time, asking his fellow slave Sandy to help him. Sandy advises him to carry a certain root on his right side to protect him from any cruelty. This mysterious idea seems to work at first, but the next day when Frederick is back on the plantation Covey decides to take out the whip again. At that moment, Douglass makes one of the most important decisions of his life: He resolves to fight Covey. Showing unexpected resistance, the now roughly 16-year-old boy succeeds in winning over his merciless overseer. This experience turns out to be the turning-point in his “career” as a slave and revives new hope for freedom in him. Surprisingly, he is not taken to the whipping post after the fight with Covey, and the remaining six months of his stay at St. Michael’s pass by relatively smoothly and without another single whipping.[36]

On the 1st of January, 1834, Douglass leaves Covey to live with Mr. Freeland, only three miles away from his last “home”. Compared with his treatment at St. Michael’s, he is dealt with in a much better way now. Douglass’s condition improves even more when he decides to open up a Sunday school for his fellow slaves where he teaches them to read. This honorable plan, however, does not last long as Christian friends of Mr. Freeland’s break up the school. In 1835, Douglass is hired to his new, relatively kind master for another twelve months, but resolves that this year should not pass without at least one attempt at escaping towards freedom. Together with four fellow slaves he plans their getaway over the water and – as the only one among them able to put pen to paper – writes fake protection notes for his comrades and himself. They do not even start their escape though. Probably betrayed by Betsy, a fellow slave who has decided not to accompany the group, they are taken to the county jail.[37]

Once more, however, Douglass becomes lucky and is not sold south. Instead, Captain Thomas Auld sends him back to Baltimore to live with his brother Hugh again. Out of fear that Douglass might turn Mr. Freeland’s other slaves into rebels as well, Captain Thomas argues, he had better be somewhere without slave company. In Baltimore, he is then hired out to the ship builder William Gardner. During the eight months there, Frederick has to do whatever he is commanded to by any of the carpenters – 75 in number. Moreover, in a horrible fight with four white apprentices, he again only barely escapes death. As a result, Hugh Auld takes Douglass back and sends him to a Mr. Price where he should learn how to “caulk”.[38] He can, after a short time, even make his own contracts and life becomes more tolerable.[39]

Douglass eventually succeeds in escaping from slavery in 1838. He does not, however, tell any details about his dangerous voyage in order not to make it even more difficult for other slaves to run away as well. On the 3rd of September of that same year, he reaches New York and is on free soil for the first time in his life. Fascinated by the gigantic metropolis, Frederick is nevertheless still afraid of being betrayed and taken back to slavery. Fortunately, he is relieved from this burdensome situation by the abolitionist David Ruggles who arranges for him to go to New Bedford. There, Douglass starts working in his trade as a caulker again and marries Anna, a free black woman whom he knows from his time as a slave. As a final step in his transformation from slave to freedman, he changes his last name from Bailey to Douglass and starts to work with great pleasure. The main text of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass ends when, after three years in New Bedford, Douglass eventually becomes known to more abolitionists and starts his career as a speaker in the anti-slavery cause.[40]

2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques

2.2.1 The Genre of the Slave Narrative Historical Circumstances

Probably more than any other literature by black writers, slave narratives are heavily influenced by the cruel circumstances the authors have escaped from. Consequently, the writers draw upon the experiences from their time in captivity. When Frederick Douglass’s Narrative was published in 1845, slavery was still an institution of fundamental importance in the Southern US. The scope and extent of forced labor was unimaginable and shortly before the Civil War (1862-1865) reaches its height of almost four million slaves all over the US, with the states of the “Cotton Kingdom” making up for half of that – “an eloquent testimony to the extent to which slavery had become entrenched in the Southern States”.[41] Especially the large-scale plantations added to the wealth of the planters and made up for the bulk of slaves and the enormous amount of agricultural products that was produced during that era. For example, by 1860 the Southern states “were producing 5,387,000 bales of cotton annually” of which 3,500,000 bales alone came out of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia.[42] Frederick Douglass’s “home”-state, on the other hand, Maryland, did not play as important a role anymore by the mid nineteenth-century in regards to mass production by forced labor. However, it had been the third largest slave-holding state in 1790.[43] In addition, the strict rules and laws regulating the everyday life of the slaves did not differ too much from state to state.

The notorious “Slave Codes” were mainly responsible for the cruel treatment of the forced laborers and in many instances responsible for the slaves’ will to escape the horrors of slavery. Davis and Gates sum up the most important aspects of this legal machinery to keep slaves subordinate to whites:

There were variations from state to state, but the general point of view expressed in most of them was the same: slaves are not people but property; laws should protect the ownership of such property and should also protect whites against any dangers that might arise from the presence of large numbers of slaves. It was also felt that slaves should be maintained in a position of due subordination in order that the optimum of discipline and work could be achieved.

Moreover, the whipping and physical abuse of slaves was legally possible and a common practice throughout the slave-holding states. For example, “most petty offenses were punishable by whipping, while more serious ones were punishable by branding, imprisonment, or death. Arson, rape of a white woman, and conspiracy to rebel were capital crimes in all slaveholding states”.[44] With this information about the historical background of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative in mind, the attention shall now be directed to the literary form “slave narrative” that evolved during this era. Typical Stylistic Features of the Slave Narrative

The first piece of literature to be regarded as a slave narrative was published in 1760.[45] Thus, it had taken roughly 140 years until blacks – having been shipped from Africa to Virginia as indentured servants for the first time in the year of 1619[46] – took up a pencil and wrote their life story for the public. The conditions for writing an autobiography were tough for the slaves who had escaped. Cast off in the new environment of the (free) Northern United States, without any education at all, without the right to learn and write, how could a former slave even think about putting pen to paper? Accordingly, the genre of the slave narrative is a special form of literature, heavily influenced by the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the writer, and exhibits certain peculiarities. According to Niemtzow, a basic characteristic of slave narratives is the fact that “a person who has existed in a previously oral world picks up an implement for the first time to communicate through writing”.[47] Used to oral communication on the plantation, the former slave transforms his thoughts and memories into a written memoir so that everybody interested in his life story is able to read what he has to say. Before any credibility can be given to his thoughts, though, it is at first necessary to prove his existence. In comparison to other (white) American autobiographers, e.g. Benjamin Franklin, whose mere existence no one doubts, slave narrators face a distrustful public. Most importantly, people want to be certain that it is really the former slave writing his life-story – and not a white and educated abolitionist. It is for this reason that special attention is given to the ex-slave’s credibility and being. Olney argues that “it was his [the narrator’s] existence and his identity, not his reasons for writing, that were called into question: if the former could be established the latter would be obvious and the same from one narrative to another”.

As a response to the doubts facing the slave narrator, certain stylistic features surrounding the actual text are developed. These include “photographs, portraits, signatures, authenticating letters” that all make the same claim: “This man exists”.[48] The portrait of the author on the cover is a highly crucial characteristic of the slave narrative. Its intention is clear: An autobiography with a picture of a slave farm on the cover, for example, would seem too standardized and untrustworthy. It could be just any slave’s story, probably faked by whites sympathizing with the cause. Although portraits on the cover are a standard feature of other American autobiographies as well, the intention of the slave authors differs greatly.

Another feature referring to the author’s credibility is typical for slave narratives: The subtitle(s). As can be observed in almost all slave narratives, the authors also try to put more emphasis on the fact that they have written their stories themselves by appending an explanatory comment to the title. According to Davis and Gates, the “most remarkable facet of the texts of the slaves in the South” is therefore “the copious corpus of narrative that the black slave wrote ‘Himself’, or ‘Herself’, as the narratives subtitles attest”.[49] A look at some of the most famous slave narratives proves this observation: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789), Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself (1849), or the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845) all exhibit the same explanatory note appended to the title.

Besides these two relatively inconspicuous features a third stylistic element is characteristic for the genre of the slave narrative: the prefatory letters, mostly written by white abolitionists. While the reading public may disbelieve in the existence of a former slave actually writing about himself, the prefaces function as another confirmation of the author’s existence. In Douglass’s Narrative, for example, we find two such writings serving both as letters of recommendation and accounts of personal acquaintance with the author.[50] One of the most famous abolitionists of his time, William Lloyd Garrison, in his foreword to Douglass’s work confesses that he is “confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing exaggerated, [and] nothing drawn from the imagination”.[51] A statement like this certainly is of great importance in the process of building up the author’s credibility and can convince skeptical readers. Robert Burns Stepto observes on these prefatory letters that although

[t]hese documents – and voices – may not be always smoothly integrated with the former slave’s tale […] they are nevertheless parts of the narrative. Their primary function is, of course, to authenticate the former slave’s account; in doing so, they are at least partially responsible for the narrative’s acceptance as historical evidence.[52]

In addition to the portrait, the subtitle, and the prefatory letters there is a fourth distinctive feature of slave narratives which aims at attaching more credibility to the author: the first sentence. In most cases the slave narrators start off with the simple statement “I was born”. As Olney observes, this “existential claim repeated” is the initial sentence of almost all well or lesser known slave narratives, including Moses Roper, Henry Bibb, Harriet Jacobs, William Wells Brown, James W.C. Pennington, Peter Randolph and – naturally – Frederick Douglass’s accounts of a life as a slave.[53] On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin as the “father” of white American autobiography, for example, does not have to commence his memoirs this way. Instead, he begins immediately by addressing his autobiography in the form of a letter to his son in which he explains his reasons for writing.[54] Intentions and Purposes of the Slave Narrative

Having looked closely at the stylistic features surrounding the actual text, the intentions and purposes of slave narratives shall be discussed in more detail. What moved blacks that had just escaped from slavery to put pen to paper? Literary critic Lillie Butler Jugurtha defines two major aims of slave autobiographers: First of all, she argues, the narratives present the former slave’s life as authentic records of a chattel system in which man is made the property of man. Once again, the aspect of authenticity comes into play and is important here. Furthermore, the system of slavery is described as “ethically, economically, and politically intolerable”.[55] Judging from these observations, the actual life of the protagonist is not at the core of the slave narrative but rather a general evaluation of the former environment surrounding the author. Scholar James Olney articulates the goals of slave narratives more extensively:

The central focus […] of nearly all the narratives […] is slavery, an institution and an external reality, rather than a particular and individual life as it is known internally and subjectively. This means that unlike autobiography in general the narratives are all trained on one and the same objective reality, they have a coherent and defined audience, they have behind them and guiding them an organized group of ‘sponsors’, and they are possessed of very specific motives, intentions, and uses understood by narrators, sponsors, and audience alike: to reveal the truth of slavery and so to bring about its abolition.[56]

With these specific intentions, the authors’ accounts of a life in captivity consequently cannot always be fully objective. Most importantly, a slave narrator would rather present slavery and those who perpetuate it in a negative fashion than to exhibit any humane traits of the system, in the case that there are any. Consequently, one could suggest, some facts in the slave narratives may not be completely true but instead exaggerated. Writing in 1849, at the height of the genre, Ephraim Peabody observed that some narratives do not give a full view of slavery. The works, he argues, give the wrong impression that the “South constitutes one vast prison-house, of which all the whites without exceptions are the mere keepers”. Furthermore, he claims that slave narratives indisputably “convey an altogether erroneous idea of the general character of the masters”. Although he is skeptical to a certain degree, Peabody is nevertheless convinced of the narratives’ good intentions and states that they “reveal incidentally, but very vividly, some of the necessary evils of this mournful institution” and aim at exerting “a very wide influence on public opinion”.[57] In other words: Narratives by former slaves tend to be biased, but – considering the circumstances – how could they not be? Relationship between “Autobiography” and “Slave Narrative”

Having looked at the intentions of the authors of slave narratives and the stylistic features surrounding the actual text, certain differences between autobiographies in the common sense and slave narratives shall now be emphasized. Annette Niemtzow defines three conditions for the definition of a work as autobiography: First, it must be the history of an individual. Secondly, an interest in the content and form of that person’s life has to exist. And finally, there has to be an implicit identity between the writer and the protagonist.[58] These prerequisites, she argues, are all crucial for the retelling of one’s life story. Certainly, these fundamentals are also true for slave narratives: They are narrations of individuals, whose form of life is of great interest to readers (both then and now). Moreover, the writer and the protagonist are, ideally and in most cases, one and the same person. Another definition of autobiography by James Olney characterizes the genre in more detail. For him, autobiographies represent a:

recollective narrative act in which the writer, from a certain point in his life – the present – looks back over the events of that life and recounts them in such a way as to show how that past history has led to this present state of being. Exercising memory, in order that he may recollect and narrate, the autobiographer is not a neutral and passive recorder but rather a creative and active shaper.[59]

According to this definition, autobiography is the retelling of the protagonist’s life with special attention given to events that influenced his position of today. By writing about past events, the autobiographer therefore actively builds up a relationship with his present being. But how do slave narratives differ from this literary genre then? Although they might be classified under the larger grouping of autobiographies and evolved out of this older genre,[60] this Afro-American literary form nevertheless shows some peculiarities and cannot simply be seen as “autobiographies with historical significance”.[61]

Compared to “normal” autobiographies, slave narratives have a significantly deeper meaning. One of their most impressive features is that they contain a “strident, moral voice” which the former slave uses for “recounting, exposing, appealing, apostrophizing, and above all remembering his ordeal in bondage”.[62] In addition, slave narratives are dominated by an “episodic dimension”. Consequently, there cannot be anything doubtful or mysterious about the writer’s memory. Instead, it has to be “a clear, unfailing record of events sharp and distinct that need only be transformed into descriptive language to become a sequential narrative of a life in slavery”.[63]

Another major aspect of slave narratives is the specific environment necessary for the author to put pen to paper. Had they not been in the bonds of slavery for a long time, many slave autobiographers would have not even thought about writing their memoirs. The lives of free blacks were not nearly as interesting to read. This is the reason why the genre almost disappeared after blacks were emancipated after the Civil War. The abolition of slavery, Davis and Gates argue, therefore led to a dramatic change of the genre and its rhetorical strategies. After 1865, there no longer was a necessity for the slave “to write himself into the human community through the action of first-person narration”.[64] Slave narratives only made sense until the circumstances they criticized suddenly disappeared. An – ironically speaking – “great, unique theme”[65] for black writers was lost, but soon replaced by more subtle forms of racism. As I will show later in this paper, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Darkwater can be viewed as one of the literary answers to these new circumstances.

In summation, it can be noted that the genre of the slave narrative constitutes a special form of autobiography. Not only does the author have to prove his existence before even starting to write, he has to include authenticating documents of white sponsors or friends as well in order to strengthen his credibility. Moreover, the intentions of slave narratives differ greatly from a normal autobiography. It is not so much the writer’s personal experiences that play an important role but rather his bold and general denunciation of the system of slavery. In this context, consequently there cannot be complete objectivity. Still, the writer has to include morale in his narrative and attempt to retell the events of his life in a straightforward fashion. Lastly, the environment surrounding the author and his background are of higher importance for slave narratives than they are for a “normal” autobiography. They directly influence his decision to write and constitute the main prerequisite for the slave narrative.

2.2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Techniques of the Narrative

How well does Frederick Douglass’s Narrative match these typical characteristics of the genre of the slave narrative as described in the preceding chapter? Regarding the stylistic features surrounding the actual text, it closely follows Olney’s observations.[66] The cover of the book is dominated by a black and white portrait of the relatively light-skinned author taken sometime between the years of 1840 and 1850 and shows him as an earnest-looking, reliable and well-fashioned abolitionist writer. Intended to prove his credibility, the readers are confronted with the “new” Frederick Douglass and not with the former slave. His countenance, haircut and clothes are rather reminiscent of an educated northern gentleman. The other aspects aiming at presenting a trustworthy autobiographer are included as well. Douglass chooses the classical slave narrative subtitle “Written by Himself” and thus attests that he did not solely tell his life story to a white author but instead wrote the 91 pages all by himself.[67] Moreover, as Olney remarks, there is a deeper meaning to the subtitle: It is “literally a part of the narrative, becoming an important thematic element in the retelling of the life wherein literacy, identity, and a sense of freedom are all acquired simultaneously and without the first, according to Douglass, the latter two would never have been”.[68]

Moreover, before the Narrative actually begins, the readers are confronted with two recommendatory letters of renowned abolitionists. The “Preface by William Lloyd Garrison” is both a praise of Douglass’s rhetorical abilities, trustworthiness and success in the anti-slavery cause, and a strong introduction to the subject. Similarly, the “Letter from Wendell Phillips” serves as a direct prequel to the actual text. Phillips’s request is an ironic comment on slavery as he asks Douglass: “Let us hear, then, what it is at its best estate – gaze on its bright side, if it has one; and then imagination may task her powers to add dark lines to the picture, as she travels southwards to that (for the colored man) Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the Mississippi sweeps along”.[69]

Frederick Douglass also succeeds well in complying with the classical intentions of the genre and his work is a successful attempt at describing the horrors of slavery. The Narrative is undoubtedly one of the gems of the genre, or, as Deborah E. McDowell put it: “The Narrative seems written with the knowledge that it was destined for history’s annals”.[70] Throughout its eleven chapters, two prefatory letters and the appendix, it manages impressively to touch the reader’s feelings and evokes a detestation of slavery, thereby aiming “straight for the heart, the reader’s feeling centre, reaching its mark more often than not”.[71]

As has been mentioned earlier, slave narratives are supposed to evaluate the system of slavery, and not so much the writer’s personal life. Douglass’s Narrative fulfills this prerequisite, too. For literary critic James Olney, the subject of slave narratives in general “trifurcates on the personal level to become subthemes of literacy, identity, and freedom” in Douglass’s text. Although these three subjects lead into and are independent from each other, he argues, they are nevertheless “virtually indistinguishable as thematic strands”. In Olney’s opinion, Douglass furthermore “goes beyond the single intention of describing slavery” but “also describes it more exactly and more convincingly than anyone else”.[72] Although the author naturally incorporates personal experiences from his time as a slave, his life can be seen as an allegory for the black people of the time. In this context Stepto correctly observes that the “narrative and moral energies of the former slave’s voice and tale so resolutely dominate the narrative’s authenticating machinery [i.e. voices, documents etc.] that the narrative becomes, in thrust and purpose, far more metaphorical than rhetorical”.[73]

The main themes Douglass employs in his Narrative are crucial for the purpose of his work. By telling his readers how he obtained literacy, the author creates his own identity within the text which eventually enables him to achieve freedom. It is this – for slave narratives very typical – dramatization of the “narrator’s educational growth and moment of realization when he opens his eyes to the possibility of escape” that the greatest part of the Narrative is about.[74] Put differently, Douglass’s first full-length book turned the genre of the slave narrative “into a weapon of words to establish the right to letters as a basic human and civil right”.[75] The ability to read and write, that is to communicate with the world of the white man, is one of the most important steps in Douglass’s metamorphosis from slave to abolitionist. The descriptions of his personal pathway towards literacy and freedom are thus extremely powerful images in his general denunciation of slavery.

As some critics have argued, the Narrative is not a fully objective account of slavery. They criticize, for example, that Douglass “took great liberties with the facts of his life – distorting, suppressing, occasionally inventing details and incidents in order […] to make the strongest possible case against the dehumanizing institution of slavery”.[76] However, there is enough evidence that the author tries to take both sides of the “peculiar institution” into account and does so in an objective way. Douglass’s decision to write an autobiography, Niemtzow argues, is first of all “a move of assent toward structuring a self for white readers”.[77] In many instances throughout the Narrative, he compares himself to whites and even sympathizes with some of them, although generally they are the oppressors and he is the victim. When he recounts his first sight of the cruelties of slavery (the whipping of his aunt Hester),[78] he “conjectures about the master’s own carnal interests in the woman”[79] and thus even tries to understand the white man’s behavior. The fact that his master is in all probability also his father underscores Douglass’s objectivity towards whites even more.

Furthermore, there is much evidence throughout the Narrative that Douglass attempts to shed his African self in order to present a picture of himself as socially acceptable by the white world and give an objective description of slavery for his mostly white readers. As Annette Niemtzow has observed on slave narratives in general, the ex-slaves wanted to cast off their old self and look for a new identity.[80] This is especially valid in Douglass’s case. Every time there is a possibility that he might connect to his African background, he chooses to adopt a “white definition of selfhood” rather than presenting himself as a person originally from the black continent. It is true, Niemtzow argues, that Douglass had other “original ideas of self” in mind – however, he simply could not use them because they “were not open to him within the terms permitted by the genre”.[81] As a result, his account of slavery throughout the story is indicting but also objective because he is writing outside of the system he has been forced to live in for roughly twenty years.

The Narrative is also representative of the genre of the slave narrative in another respect: Altogether, its structure follows quite closely the typical outline of this literary form. Several scholars have commented on this. According to Marva J. Furman, the “basic stages of development” in a work of this genre are “discussion, itemization, and dramatization”.[82] Such is the case in Douglass’s memoir, too. The first few chapters are a general introduction to slavery, followed by the itemization of the importance of literacy and thinking, and from chapter ten onwards, a dramatization of these elements. The Narrative also follows Olney’s “Master Plan for slave narratives” and “paradoxically transcends the slave narrative mode while being at the same time its fullest, most exact representative”.[83]

The stylistic features of narration are remarkable in Douglass’s work from 1845. Instead of using a slave dialect, the author mostly employs sophisticated English language to better reach his, mostly white, audience. His famous soliloquies in particular prove his mastery of words. In one of them, Douglass laments over the freedom which the ships in the Chesapeake Bay possess and which he cannot yet obtain:

You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! O, that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wings! Alas! betwixt me and you, the turbid waters roll. Go on, go on. O, that I could also go![84]

This excerpt from Douglass’s powerful speech impressively conveys the author’s rhetorical abilities and his refined use of language. Deborah E. McDowell, for example, notes that Douglass was “removed from plantation speech, distant from the dialect of slaves, and bound inescapably to the ‘master’s language’, symbolically speaking”.[85] Even the critics of his time noted that he had adopted the style of speech of his friends in the North.[86] Why did he do so? According to Davis and Gates, the “popular acceptance of the figure of the black was determined […] by his or her mastery of words”[87] – Frederick Douglass’s work is a confirmation of this because his popularity was unmatched by few if any other slave narrators.

Regarding Douglass’s authorial position, the readers are mostly confronted with an ever present eye-witness, a typical feature of slave narratives.[88] This mode of retelling often resembles a testimony in front of a court of law. Consequently, as John Burt observes, the Narrative seems written in a “tone of lucid detachment more characteristic of a legislator than a victim of oppression”.[89] The following excerpt from Douglass’s fight with Edward Covey is representative of this style of speech:

He came to the spot, and, after looking at me awhile, asked me what was the matter. I told him as well as I could, for I scarce had strength to speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side, and told me to get up. I tried to do so, but fell back in the attempt. He gave me another kick, and again told me to rise. I again tried, and succeeded in gaining my feet; but, stooping to get the tub with which I was feeding the fan, I again staggered and fell.[90]

Instead of presenting “real dialogue”, Douglass’s style of narration only pretends that there is a second speaker present, in this case Covey. The author acts as a “witness-narrator” who summarizes and presents the material. This authorial position thus leads to a dramatization of the described events.[91] Furthermore, this literary style is intended “to posit both the individual ‘I’ of the black author, as well as the collective ‘I’ of the race”.[92] It therefore directly corresponds with the intentions of the slave narrative, i.e. to arouse in the readers a general sympathy for all slaves and not only the protagonist.

Douglass’s use of quotations from well-known literature is another proof of his elegant style of language. While, as Olney observes, slave narrators in general often even “apologize for their lack of style or writing ability”, Douglass has no reason to do so. For example, by citing passages from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in the context of the fear surrounding his first attempt to escape[93], he sees his own experience “in the light of Hamlet’s experience”.[94] The author also quotes from the Bible, as in chapter eleven when he relates his hospitable treatment by the abolitionist Nathan Johnson in New Bedford.[95] This usage of citations from an important white dramatist and from the white world’s major religious book clearly underscores Douglass’s fine rhetoric and broad knowledge. Someone with such eloquence cannot possibly be an abolitionists’ tool without any literary ambitions. Instead, he is an educated and independent gentleman using the best stylistic features for the writing of the story of his life.

Finally, throughout the Narrative there is evidence of humor as another stylistic element. Although it seems improper to write about the cruelties of slavery in an amusing tone, Douglass, like other slave narrators of his time, does so occasionally. Marva J. Furman is among the scholars who have noted that from 1813 onwards the narrative style of slave narrators was in fact characterized by the use of irony to attack “the fundamental inconsistency of having slavery in a Christian and democratic nation”.[96] An impressive example of the use of satire in Douglass’s Narrative is his “Parody” in the Appendix to his work. Here, he mocks the superficial and fake religious behavior of many southerners, especially slaveholders, by mimicking a popular Southern hymn called “Heavenly Union”: “They’ll raise tobacco, corn, and rye, / And drive, and thieve, and cheat, and lie, / And lay up treasures in the sky, / By making switch and cowskin fly, / In hope of heavenly union”.[97]


[1] Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. As Told to Alex Haley, 1965 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999) 377. For reasons of simplification I will shorten the title to The Autobiography or The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the remainder of this thesis.

[2] Statistical Abstract of the United States: Section 1. Population, 2006, 11.02.2006 <http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/06statab/pop.pdf>

[3] Stephen Butterfield, Black Autobiography in America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1974) 2.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Butterfield, 3-4.

[6] Ibid., 11.

[7] Ibid., 93.

[8] Ibid., 183.

[9] Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845, ed. Deborah E. McDowell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). For reasons of simplification, I will shorten the title to Narrative in the remainder of this thesis.

[10] W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater – Voices from within the Veil, 1920, ed. Julie Nord (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999).

I will shorten the title to Darkwater in the remainder of this thesis.

[11] John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner, eds., The Art of the Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory (Macomb: Western Illinois University, 1982).

[12] Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds., The Slave’s Narrative (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

[13] William L. Andrews, ed., Critical Essays on W.E.B. Du Bois, (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1985).

[14] Arnold Rampersad, The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois, 1976 (New York: Schocken Books Inc., 1990).

[15] Jack B. Moore, W.E.B. Du Bois (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981).

[16] David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois – Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1993).

[17] Dickinson D. Bruce, Black American Writing from the Nadir: The Evolution of a Literary Tradition, 1877-1915 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998).

[18] Devon Boan, The Black “I”: Author and Audience in African American Literature (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2002).

[19] Kenneth Mostern, Autobiography and Black Identity Politics: Racialization in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

[20] Paul John Eakin, “Malcolm X and the Limits of Autobiography,” Criticism Vol. XVIII, No. 1 (Winter 1976) 230-242.

[21] Carol Ohmann, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: A Revolutionary Use of the Franklin Tradition,” American Quarterly Volume XXII, No. 2, Pt. 1 (Summer 1970) 131-149.

[22] Alex Haley, “Epilogue,” The Autobiography of Malcolm X. As Told to Alex Haley, 1965 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999) 390-463.

[23] John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom. A History of African Americans, 7th ed., eds. Peter Labella and Bob Greiner (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994).

[24] Ephraim Peabody, “Narratives of Fugitive Slaves,” The Slave’s Narrative, ed. Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) 24.

[25] Ibid., 19.

[26] Deborah E. McDowell, “Introduction,” Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself, ed. Deborah E. Mc Dowell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) xii.

[27] Cf. e.g. Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Introduction. The Language of Slavery,” The Slave’s Narrative, eds. Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) xi.

[28] Cf. James Olney, “’I Was Born’: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature,” The Slave’s Narrative, eds. Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) 153.

[29] These critics include, for example, Charles T. Davis, Henry Louis Gates (Jr.), Marva J. Furman and James Olney.

[30] Douglass’s other two autobiographies are My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).

[31] Cf. Douglass, 15-34.

[32] Cf. ibid., 35-43.

[33] Cf. ibid., 44-47.

[34] Cf. ibid., 48-53.

[35] Cf. Douglass, 54-64.

[36] Cf. ibid., 65-70.

[37] Cf. ibid., 71-82.

[38] “to caulk” means: “to stop up and make tight against leakage (as a boat or its seams, the cracks in a window frame, or the joints of a pipe)” (cf. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: Definition of caulk, 11/14/2005 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/caulk>).

[39] Cf. Douglass, 83-87.

[40] Cf. ibid., 88-100.

[41] Franklin and Moss, 123.

[42] Cf. Franklin and Moss., 124.

[43] Cf. ibid., 85.

[44] Ibid., 125.

[45] According to McDowell in her introductory text to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, first person narratives of African-Americans date back to 1760 when “A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man” was published

[46] Cf. Franklin and Moss, 56.

[47] Annette Niemtzow, “The Problematic of Self in Autobiography: The Example of the slave narrative,” The Art of the slave narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory, eds. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner (Macomb: Western Illinois University, 1982) 96.

[48] Cf. Olney, 155.

[49] Davis and Gates, xxiii.

[50] The “Preface” by William Lloyd Garrison and the “Letter from Wendell Phillips, Esq.”

[51] William Lloyd Garrison, “Preface,” Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845, ed. Deborah E. McDowell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 7.

[52] Robert Burns Stepto, “I Rose and Found My Voice: Narration, Authentication, and Authorial Control in Four Slave Narratives,” The Slave's Narrative, eds. Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) 225.

[53] Cf. Olney, 155.

[54] Benjamin Franklin, “The Autobiography,” 1771, The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume A. 6th ed., ed. Nina Baym (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003) 538.

[55] Cf. Lillie Butler Jugurtha, “Point of View in the Afro-American Slave Narratives: A Study of Narratives by Douglass and Pennington,” The Art of the Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Literature, eds. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner (Macomb: Western Illinois University, 1982) 110.

[56] Olney, 154.

[57] Cf. Peabody, 20-21.

[58] Cf. Niemtzow, 97.

[59] Cf. Olney, 149.

[60] Cf. Niemtzow, 107.

[61] Marva J. Furman, “The Slave Narrative: Prototype of the Early Afro-American Novel,” The Art of the Slave Narrative: Original Essays in Criticism and Literature, eds. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner (Macomb: Western Illinois University, 1982) 125.

[62] Stepto, 225.

[63] Olney, 150-151.

[64] Cf. Davis and Gates, xii+xiii.

[65] Ibid., xviii.

[66] Cf. Olney, 151.

[67] All of these observations refer to the Oxford World’s Classic edition of Frederick Douglass's Narrative.

[68] Olney, 156.

[69] Wendell Phillips, “Letter from Wendell Phillips, Esq.,” Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845, ed. Deborah E. McDowell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 13.

[70] McDowell, xii.

[71] Ibid., xvi.

[72] Olney, 154-156.

[73] Stepto, 226.

[74] Cf. Furman, 121.

[75] Lucinda H. MacKethan, “From Fugitive Slave to Man of Letters: The Conversion of Frederick Douglass,” Journal of Narrative Technique 16:1 (1986 Winter) 57.

[76] McDowell, ix.

[77] Niemtzow, 101.

[78] Cf. Douglass, 18.

[79] Jugurtha, 114.

[80] Cf. Niemtzow, 96.

[81] Ibid., 101-103.

[82] Furman, 121.

[83] Cf. Olney, 153-154.

[84] Douglass, 62.

[85] McDowell, xiv-xv.

[86] Cf. Peabody, 25.

[87] Davis and Gates, xvi.

[88] Cf. Jugurtha, 110.

[89] John Burt, “Learning to write: The Narrative of Frederick Douglass,” Western Humanities Review 42:2 (1988 Winter) 331.

[90] Douglass, 64.

[91] Cf. Jugurtha, 113-114.

[92] Davis and Gates, xxvi.

[93] Cf. Douglass, 77.

[94] Cf. Olney, 166.

[95] Talking about Mr. Johnson, Douglass states on page 98 of his Narrative: “I was hungry, and he gave me meat; I was thirsty, and he gave me drink; I was a stranger, and he took me in”. This citation is taken from Matthew 25:35.

[96] Cf. Furman, 122.

[97] Douglass, 105.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
952 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Bamberg – Professur für Amerikanistik
Development Self-Image Black Autobiographical Writing Douglass Bois Malcolm




Title: The Development of the Self-Image in Black Autobiographical Writing (Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X)