Slaves in the city enjoy relatively greater freedom than plantation slaves. Urban slave owners are careful not to appear cruel or neglectful to slaves in the eyes of non‑slaveholding whites. Exceptions to this rule certainly exist, however. The Hamiltons, for example, neighbors of the Aulds, mistreat their two young slaves, Henrietta and Mary. The women’s bodies are starved and mangled from Mrs. Hamilton’s regular beatings. Douglass himself witnesses Mrs. Hamilton’s brutal treatment of the girls.
Analysis: Chapters V–VI
In Chapter V, the Narrative returns its focus to Douglass’s personal history and away from information or anecdotes about others. Douglass describes his own treatment on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation. He is frank about the relative ease of his experience as compared to the adult slaves who worked in the fields. Douglass’s candor about the relative lack of hardship he endured as a young slave makes his whole account seem more realistic and truthful. He maintains this frank and moderate tone throughout the Narrative.
Douglass uses a striking image to describe the frostbite wounds he suffered as a child, as it dramatizes his doubleness of self. He describes how the pen with which he is now writing could fit inside the cracks on his foot he suffered from the cold. In the Narrative, Douglass typically maintains a dichotomy between his free, educated, literate self—which does not appear as a body—and the abused body of his unenlightened slave self. In his image of the pen in the gash, however, Douglass momentarily collapses the distance between his two selves, suggesting that the distinction between the two is not always clear.
Douglass’s relocation to Baltimore is the first major change in his life, and theshift of setting introduces the notion of the greater freedom of cities versus the countryside. Cities—and especially Northern cities—in the Narrative offer enlightenment, prosperity, and a degree of social freedom. Only in cities is Douglass able to connect with different kinds of people and new intellectual ideas. By contrast, the countryside appears in the Narrative as a place of extremely limited freedom. In rural areas, slaves have less mobility and are more closely watched by slave owners. This motif contributes to the movement of the Narrative: Douglass is symbolically closest to Northern freedom when in the city of Baltimore, and is symbolically furthest from freedom when in rural areas.
While Douglass’s Narrative shows that slavery dehumanizes slaves, it also advances the idea that slavery adversely affects slave owners. Douglass makes this point in previous chapters by showing the damaging self‑deceptions that slave owners must construct to keep their minds at ease. These self‑deceptions build upon one another until slave owners are left without religion or reason, with hypocrisy as the basis of their existence. Douglass uses the figure of Sophia Auld to illustrate this process. When Douglass arrives to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld, Sophia treats Douglass as nearly an equal to her own son. Soon, however, Hugh schools Sophia in the ways of slavery, teaching her the immoral slave‑master relationship that gives one individual complete power over another. Douglass depicts Sophia’s transformation in horrific terms. She seems to lose all human qualities and to become an evil, inhuman being. Douglass presents Sophia as much a victim of the institution of slavery as Douglass himself is.
The fact that Sophia is a woman helps Douglass’s portrayal of her as a victim of slavery. It is significant that the male slaveholders of Douglass’s Narrative, even Hugh Auld, all appear to be already schooled in the vice of slavery. Women, and Sophia especially, exist in Douglass’s Narrative as idealistically sympathetic and virtuous beings—a gender stereotype common in nineteenth‑century culture. Thus Sophia becomes, along with the slaves themselves, an object of sympathy for Douglass’s readers. The readers’ horror and regret for Sophia’s lost kindness reinforces their sense that slavery is unnatural and evil.