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Frederick Douglass Essay, Research Paper

Romanticism, Realism and Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass Narrative is often placed within the genres of Romanticism and Realism. With the narrative of Frederick Douglass and with definitions of each genre, it is easy to see how Frederick Douglass narrative can be classified in both areas.

No one is sure of when Frederick Douglass was born, but we do know that he was born a slave on a plantation in Tuckahoe, Maryland in about early 1817 and his birth name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He lived with his grandmother on a plantation until age 8, when he was shipped to Baltimore to work as a house servant. Though it went against state law at the time, Douglass was taught to read by the wife of his master, Hugh Auld. Because it was thought that literacy and learning were unnecessary for slaves, Douglass was forced to teach himself and gather information from any source available. The more he learned, the more he resented everything about slavery, and he continually thought of ways to resist and escape.

In 1838, at age twenty disguised as a sailor, he managed to flee to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he worked as a laborer for three years and join antislavery forces in the North. He was able to hide from slave hunters by changing his name from Bailey to Douglass. While at an antislavery convention in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in August 1841, Douglass was asked to speak publicly about his life in slavery. Douglass quickly became one of the most famous spokesman for abolition through his position as “traveling agent” of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. By 1844, Douglass spoke with such force and intelligence that many who heard him doubted that he had ever been a slave.

In 1845 he published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which related his experiences as a slave, revealed his fugitive status and exposed him to the danger of re-enslavement later that year he left the United States for Great Britain in August. Friends in England purchased Douglass’s freedom, and he returned to the United States a free man in 1847. Upon returning to the United States he founded the North Star. In the years before the Civil War he was forced to flee to Canada when the governor of Virginia swore out a warrant for his arrest. Douglas returned to the United States before the beginning of the Civil War and after meeting with President Abraham Lincoln and helped in the formation of the 54th and 55th Negro regiments of Massachusetts.

During Reconstruction he became deeply involved in the civil rights movement and in 1871 he was appointed to the territorial legislature of the District of Columbia. He served as one of the presidential electors-at-large for New York in 1872 and shortly thereafter became the secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission. After serving for a short time as the police commissioner of the District of Columbia, he was appointed marshal in 1871 and held the post until he was appointed the recorder of deeds in 1881. In 1890 his support of the presidential campaign of Benjamin Harrison won him his minister resident and consul general to the Republic of Haiti. In 1891 he resigned the position in protest of the corrupt business practices of American businessmen. Douglass died at home in Washington, DC in 1895.

Romanticism marked a profound change in both literature and thought. Romanticism, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is defined as “a literary movement (as in early 19th century Europe) marked especially by an emphasis on the imagination and emotions and by the use of autobiographical material.” Although this may be true, there is no single definition of Romanticism. However, there are some features which there is general agreement. It emphasized upon human reason, feeling, emotion, and expression while emphasizing the love of nature, beauty, and liberty. Romanticism was inspired by the imaginations, inner feelings, and emotions of the Romantics.

Frederick Douglass narrative is considered in this genre because Douglass was not afraid to portray his emotions. He openly expressed his love for liberty and it can be seen that Douglass spends his life fighting for this right. He is very passionate in his writings and in his speeches fighting for freedom. Because of the emotions he incorporated in his writings he is often placed in the category of romanticism.

Realism was a literary movement that began in the nineteenth century. The concept of realism was to stress the actual occurrences of life rather than those that were imagined or made up. Realists were writers who wrote about real people in real situations, a rebellion against romantic literature.

Douglass narrative can be classified in the category of Realism even more so than in romanticism. Douglass narrative is the exact definition of Realism – the actual occurrences of life. There were many dangers involved in writing about his slave life and few people had the ability or courage to do it. As in the definition, Douglass wrote about his real situation , holding back few details.

We can easily see how Frederick Douglass life can be placed in the genres romanticism and realism. Because Douglass wrote with emotion and such passion about freedom, he is categorized as a Romantic. Because he wrote his real life experiences incorporating real people and real events, Douglass is categorized as a


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