Douglass is surprised by the wealthy and clean appearance of New Bedford. Douglass has always assumed that Northerners, because they own no slaves, are poor. But the city’s industries appear prosperous, and the workers labor smoothly. Douglass sees no extreme poverty. Even the city’s blacks enjoy good living conditions. They are more politically aware and educated than many Southern slaveholders. Additionally, the Northern blacks take care of one another and guard escaped slaves from recapture.
Douglass works for the next three years in miscellaneous jobs at the docks in New Bedford. After several months, he earns enough money to subscribe to the Liberator, an abolitionist magazine. In August 1841, Douglass attends an antislavery convention in Nantucket and is urged to speak about his experience as a slave. He is nervous about speaking in front of whites, but soon talks with ease. Since that day, Douglass has worked to plead the case against slavery.
Douglass uses the appendix to clarify his position about religion. He concontends that there is a great gap between the pure and peaceful Christianity of Christ and the corrupt Christianity of slaveholding America. Douglass articulates his understanding of the hypocrisy of Southern “Christians” who whip slaves, prostitute female slaves, and steal the wages of working slaves while professing Christian values of humility, purity, and virtue. Douglass implies that the Southern church and slaveholders support each other. The church accepts the slave money of slaveholders. Douglass quotes from the Bible, an abolitionist poem, and a parodic version of a Southern hymn to support his argument.
Analysis: Chapter XI & Appendix
Douglass’s explanation about why he does not describe the means of his escape elaborates on one of the Narrative’s main themes—the perpetuation of slavery through enforced ignorance. Douglass has said that slave owners keep blacks enslaved by refusing to let them be educated. Douglass presents this strategy as an aggressive, dehumanizing policy. In Chapter XI, Douglass turns the tables, refusing to educate slaveholders about the means of his escape or about how slaves escape in general. Douglass does not want slaveholders and slave catchers to stop slaves from escaping in the future. But Douglass’s tone also becomes impassioned, as he suggests that he also wishes that slaveholders and slavecatchers suffer in their ignorance. Just as ignorance dehumanizes slaves, Douglass imagines that ignorance about slaves’ means of escape will change slaveholders into hunted animals. The slaveholders’ panic and paranoia would be comparable to what slaves are made to feel. Douglass’s tone makes this wish seem vindictive, but it also expands a theme of the Narrative, showing that lack of knowledge robs people of their ability to control.
The second, implicit, reason that Douglass does not relay the details of his escape to the North is to protect the safety of those who helped him. Douglass’s account of the time of his escape is understandably conflicted as a result. Douglass acknowledges that he has friends and a fiancée in Baltimore, but he does not provide any information about his relationships with them. The only indication of how important Douglass’s friends are to him is the extent to which he suffers from their absence in New York City. This omission of supportive characters from the Narrative seems to be not only an effort to protect their identities, but also a concession to the conventions of the individual success story. The Narrative suggests that slaves are made on an individual level by depriving men of selfhood. The Narrative therefore shows Douglass’s quest for freedom as an individual accomplishment, achieved without the help of others.
Douglass’s first few days alone in New York represent a new stage in his self‑formation. Douglass renders this time as a new sort of trial—a trial of solitude—and his rhetorical treatment of this time reinforces his feelings of isolation. Douglass gives the reader a sense of his circumstances and sentiments at this time, but he also repeatedly insists that no reader can fully sympathize with his feelings without experiencing all of the conditions he himself faced. Douglass’s rhetoric invites the reader to imagine his feelings while forcing the reader to recognize the impossibility of this imagining. The passage thus sets apart Douglass’s first few days in New York as a difficult, individual trial.