Analysis

The second half of Chapter X continues to shift between personal accounts and public arguments against slavery. Douglass moves from the personal account of the rest of the year under Covey to a general analysis of the “holiday” that slave owners give their slaves between Christmas and New Year’s. Generally, the public, or persuasive—sections of the Narrative generally either disprove pro‑-slavery arguments, present antislavery arguments, or disabuse readers of misinformation or misinterpretation about the practices of slave owners. Douglass’s analysis of the holiday time falls in this last category. To the uninformed observer, it would appear a positive thing that slave owners grant a holiday to their slaves. Douglass explains, however, that this seeming benevolence is part of the larger power structure of slavery. Slaveholders use holiday time to make their slaves disaffected with “freedom” and to keep them from revolting.

The figure of William Freeland stands in direct contrast to the rest of the slave owners in Douglass’s Narrative. Douglass’s previous masters have all shared one or both of two traits: hypocritical piety or inconsistent brutality. Douglass presents Freeland as a good slave owner because he lacks both of these vices. Freeland has no pretensions about religion and is consistent and fair in his treatment of his slaves. However, though Freeland is a good model for a slave owner, Douglass remains clear that slaveholding in any form is still unjust. He points to his dissatisfaction with Freeland in a pun on Freeland’s name. Instead of equating “Freeland” with “free land,” Douglass uses the pun to point out that belonging to “Freeland” is not as good a guarantee as living on “free land.”

Douglass’s experience under Freeland is also positive because he develops a social network of fellow slaves that during this time. Except for his friendship with the local boys in Baltimore, Douglass has been a figure of isolation and alienation in the Narrative. As an isolated figure, he appropriately resembles the protagonist of a traditional coming‑of‑age story. These autobiographical stories tend to privilege a model of heroic individualism over social interaction and support. In Chapter X, however, Douglass reveals the close friendships he develops at Freeland’s and shows that he relies on friends’ support. This model of social support competes with the model of heroic individualism through the end of Douglass’s Narrative. For example, Douglass’s first escape attempt involves several people and fails, whereas he presents his successful escape as the act of an individual.

In their prefaces to Douglass’s Narrative, Garrison and Phillips place Douglass in the context of the American Revolutionaries’ battle for rights and freedom. Douglass himself uses this context in Chapter X when he specifies that escaping slaves act more bravely than Patrick Henry did. Douglass alludes to Henry’s famous declaration, “Give me liberty or give me death.” While Henry faces a choice between political independence and oppression, escaping slaves must choose between two unattractive options—the familiar ills of slavery and the unknown dangers of escape. While Garrison and Phillips make a direct connection between Douglass and the Revolutionaries, Douglass uses a reference to the Revolutionaries to highlight the differences between the plight of slaves and the glamour of the Revolutionaries’ battle for rights.

For Douglass, the difference between the Revolutionaries and slaves is widened by the fact that slaves do not benefit from the citizen’s rights for which the Revolutionaries fought. When four of Gardner’s white apprentices attack Douglass, Douglass enjoys neither the right to defend himself nor the right see his attackers punished for their crime. Douglass ironically portrays his master Hugh Auld as naïvely surprised and indignant upon hearing the lawyer say that a slave has no right to stand witness against a white. The irony with which Douglass writes of American “human rights” in theory and in practice also seems present in the Narrative’s subtitle, An American Slave. The Narrative goes on to show that the words “American” and “slave” are contradictory: the rights afforded by the designation “American” are nonexistent for slaves.

In Chapter X we see Douglass working for wages for the first time. Previously, his labor translated into invisible profit for his masters, but when he begins apprenticing at shipyards, he begins to receive the monetary value of his labor. Douglass must must turn over these wages to Hugh Auld each week, however. The physical presence of the money Douglass earns with his labor reinforces his sense of the injustice of slavery. Hugh Auld comes to resemble a thief who steals what is not his, rather than an owner of property by which he profits.