Last Updated on 03/23/2023 by Sophia
Racial discrimination is among the controversial issues in America today. There are still
prevalent cases of minority discrimination, mainly African Americans. Most of them suffer in
silence, while others reject white superiority through activist groups such as Black Lives Matter.
However, slavery is the foundation of increased racial discrimination among the minority. Proper
understanding of prevalent slavery issues in America needs an assessment of Douglass, Henson,
and Northup’s slavery narrations. It also entails comparisons with works of slavery supporters
such as George Fitzhugh.
What do these primary sources tell us about slave life?
According to Douglass’ narrative, being a slave is brutal and severe. Slaves are often
regarded as an object rather than humans. Douglass refutes this perception by declaring that he
was born. He further states that slaves are repeatedly denied humanity and treated like animals.
Therefore, slave life entails being generated from your family and helpless (Douglass, 1845). For
instance, Douglass narrates that the system of slavery attempted to deny him humanity and
treated him like an animal. The system kept him ignorant of his birthdate, separated him from the
family, left him naked, and determined his worth alongside animals. According to Douglass,
slavery reduces people to an animal. It destroys the slaves and slave owner’s humanity.
Furthermore, Northup's narration presents slavery as a dehumanizing practice that
damaged people's humanity. As Douglas was denied his identity and separated from family,
Northup suffered severe labor through working in large plantations. According to Northup,
slaves had no rights, and they were forced to work. In his narration, Northup portrays the
overseer's qualification, including being heartless, brutal, and cruel (Northup, 1853). All these
attributes depict the harsh life slaves endured. These overseers ensured the production of large
yields and work accomplishment irrespective of the suffering they might cost the slaves. These
practices and pressure depict slaves as animals rather than humans. They are guarded with
powerful weapons such as pistols, and even dogs had decent lifestyles. Northup states that black
drivers dragged tired slaves and poured water upon them as a way of making them sweat. This
indicates the brutal lifestyle of slaves. They were never offered proper treatment, even tricky
conditions such as sickness and fatigue.
Father Henson's narration also depicts painful experiences of slavery, particularly its
effects on the family. Although Henson does not narrate his personal slavery stories like Douglas
and Northup, his father's experienced depict how slavery makes fathers helpless while attempting
to safeguard their families (Henson, 1858). It also shows that slaves do not have any power to
control their families. The master has full control and determines how fathers manage their
families. According to Henson, the overseers were obligated to transfer slaves from one farm to
another. Slaves had to follow the commands and any refusal resulted in severe punishment. He
also argues that slavery allowed the master to revenge easily.
How were slaves controlled?
According to Douglas, slaves were controlled by denying an opportunity to understand
themselves. For instance, Douglas has never known his birthdate. He was separated from his
family and treated like an animal. The slave owners attempt to make slaves accept their animal
identity (Douglass, 1845). Besides, slaves were controlled by being kept illiterate. This is
evident when Sophia's husband discouraged her from teaching Douglas. Being illiterate makes
slaves entirely dependent on their masters. And Douglas compares slaves who remain illiterate as
those residing in a darkened world where they only understand suffering. He illustrates how
slave owners keep slaves enslaved but unhappy based on their experiences (Douglass, 1845). In
this context, Douglas underscores how work, discipline, mental and emotional manipulation, and
violence breaks down severe slaves. He was broken in body, soul, and spirit. His natural
elasticity was damaged, his intellect disappeared, and the urge to read died. He also lost his
bright spark, and the darkness of slavery engulfed him.
Similarly, Northup experienced resembled Douglass’ brutality. However, Northup's
experiences are extreme. He claims that slaves were controlled through backbreaking work in
large estates that employed more than 100 slaves. The principal supervisors in these plantations
included white overseers and black drivers. Overseers were armed with pistols, bowie knives,
whips, and numerous dogs. Northup notes that overseers used these tools to maintain sharp
supervision of all the slaves. They used the dogs to overhaul an escaping slave (Northup, 1853).
The pistols were reserved for severe emergencies, mainly when a slave attacks the overseer.
Besides, the black drivers controlled slaves using whips. These were meant to force slave
workers to keep working no matter their conditions.
According to Henson, slaves were controlled through threats, force, and executions.
Henson's dad was murdered while attempting to safeguard his wife from the overseer's brutality.
These executions were done publicly to scare other slaves from attacking masters (Henson,
1858). Cruelty and severe punishment seem to be tools of control, similar to Douglas and
Northup's narrations. Henson states that he once saw his father with a bloody head and lacerated
bark. Furthermore, slavery rules supported punishment accorded to slaves, such as execution.
The rules were the foundation of revenge when a slave attacked any master.
How did they manage to maintain their humanity?
According to Douglass, slaves can present their humanity by focusing on literacy. For
instance, he illustrates the significance of literacy while formulating his desire for freedom and
the real escape from slavery (Douglass, 1845). He further narrates how Sophia attempted to teach
him the alphabet, but her husband considered the process dangerous and worthless. Douglass
further recounts how he used poor white boys within the neighborhood to teach him and how he
accessed an old copy of The Columbian Orator. While describing the book's impact, Douglas
notes that the book prompted good thoughts that have regularly flashed across his mind but died
away for lack of utterance (Douglass, 1845). Therefore. Douglas suggests that literacy creates
lasting desire for freedom.
Douglass further emphasizes the importance of the personal ability to overcome
dehumanization and reject and rebuild one's humanity violently. This occurred when he resisted
to be Covey’s slave. Irrespective of all slavery deprivations, Douglas notes that some intrinsic
urge for freedom often remains (Douglass, 1845). In the context of Northup, slaves maintained
their humanity by following commands and accomplishing the plantation work. However,
Northup described two situations that could allow slaves to regain their humanity or freedom.
First, a slave could escape from brutal treatment similar to Douglas (Northup, 1853).
Alternatively, the slave could attack the overseer and face execution. Nevertheless, some slaves
might consider death than facing brutal punishment.
According to Henson, the dad played a crucial role in ensuring the family remained
intact. He was ready to die rather than watch his family suffer from brutal punishment and harsh
labor. In this narrative, purchasing one's freedom was the preferred way to acquire space and
gain humanity (Henson, 1858). Like Douglas and Northup's narratives, Henson's family faced
severe brutality, and the day paid the ultimate price of death to gain humanity. However, Henson
was focused and remained hopeful until he regained his freedom. As Douglas noted about the
inner urge of freedom, Henson is proof of a committed slave who pursued freedom irrespective
of the challenging situations. Therefore, endurance and hope assisted slaves in managing their
12 years of Slave Film
The film invokes anger and sadness. The sufferings of the slaves as portrayed by the
movie surpasses the written documents. The film detailed Northup's sufferings for 12 years and
the portraits of slavery that have never been screened. The raw brutality of Epps' men reveals the
real picture of slave life. For instance, Epps forces Solomon to whip Patsey until blood and flesh
flew. He further beats until and the movie portrays several blows. Similarly, the film exposes the
unity of slaves as they attempted to help each other in challenging situations.
George Fitzhugh Assertions.
George Fitzhugh is among the key supporters of slavery. He argued that the slave trade
was the only trade with following. He further stated that Black-Americans are grown-up children
who must be governed as children (Fitzhugh, 1850). Fitzhugh supported the experiences of
Douglas, Northup, and Henson. Besides, Fitzhugh argues that slavery was a channel to save
Blacks from being a societal burden. Therefore, society has the right to prevent responsibility by
subjecting blacks to domestic slavery. Lastly, Fitzhugh regarded the Negro race as inferior to the
white race (Fitzhugh, 1850). These assertions are the foundation of the challenging situations
that Douglas, Northup, and Henson experience. These experiences were severe, dehumanized
their humanity, and resulted in the loss of loved ones. They were able to take care of their
families, as proved by Henson to purchase his freedom. This nullifies Fitzhugh's argument that
African Americans cannot operate without slavery. Their commitment to fight slavery also
cancels the perception that African-Americans will be extinct without whites. Although Fitzhugh
regards African Americans as weak, the three former slaves' endurance indicates their resilience,
determination, and urge to attain freedom.
Slave Owners wrote these defenses to continue oppressing African Americans. They
needed to create false accusations against them to invoke discrimination and differences between
blacks and whites. These differences allowed slave owners to recruit more slaves since the focus
changed from slavery to racism. These defenses created tensions between blacks and whites that
created a conducive environment for slavery.
Slavery in America dehumanized many African Americans, such as Douglass, Northup,
and Henson. They faced severe punishments and brutality supported by Fitzhugh's false
assertions. Besides, these three narrations illustrated the difficult slavery life, the humiliation of
slaves, and their treatment as animals. The slaves had no rights and entirely depended on the
masters. However, the suffering of three slaves, among many others, and resilience to eliminate
slavery changed society. The constitution safeguards people's rights, and slavery was abolished
Douglass, F. (1845). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Elegant
Fitzhugh, G. (1850). The Universal Law of Slavery.
Henson, J. (1858). Father Henson's Story of His Own Life. Gutenberg.org.
Northup, S. (1853). Twelve Years a Slave. Gutenberg. Org.