“A Slave by Form, Not by Fact”

“A Slave by Form, Not by Fact”Douglas Anderson’s article “The Textual Reproductions of Frederick Douglass,” made many comparisons between the writing styles of Frederick Douglass and William Shakespeare. These comparisons led to an immediate reflection open the humor, concept of gaining one’s sense of manhood, and the between the lines writing in Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.” Douglass took what he could from his life and experiences as a slave and mapped a way to freedom. He was a man who refused to sit idle, even after his exile to the Covey’s “borrowed” plantation. Douglass was a complex character, who many times, became consumed in deep thought over the grime situations in which he found himself. Anderson’s article hinted towards many points to be found by reading between the lines of Douglass’ narrative.
The first read of Anderson’s article led by brow to wrinkle over the mention of humor. One had to read on to understand the underlying humor in Douglass’ narrative as explained by Anderson. When reading the narrative, the audience may become consumed with the brutality of slavery, but after careful thought and encouragement from Anderson, I was able to notice some instances of humor. Anderson retold the fight between Covey and Douglass reciting Covey’s claim to victory after the fight. I could not help but agree with the humor found in this, and the victory for Douglass. This fight leads to Douglass’ realization of Covey’s real position within himself and the land. Anderson’s article also relayed the short-lived humor of the master’s encounter with Old Barney. Old Barney was whipped for telling the truth, lying, or being silent. There was no way around the hell, so he remained silent. Covey was Anderson’s main focus of the humorous component of Douglass’ narrative. By Covey not owning his own manhood, jokingly being called “the snake” by the slaves, and his false victory over Douglass, this led to some smiles from his readers.
Even as Covey was the focus of ridicule, Anderson attributed a great deal of Douglass’ realization and deliverance from his short-lived “brute” state to Covey. I agree with this, because he had become physically and mentally broken under the harsh circumstances of Covey’s plantation, but after a two-hour long fight, he woke up from the trance of slavery. He fell sick in the field and was kicked and beaten. Douglass ran for cover and he was sent back to his abuser. Covey tried to punish his to no avail. Douglass realized he had to depend on himself, as a man. Anderson even equated Covey’s name with his lack of manhood. By Anderson giving the reader the definition of the word “covey,” it strengthened Covey’s lack of hold on his life’s path. This lead to my own research of the word, and along with not being able to bear children, (as Covey and his wife could not), it is a word that derives from covering or used when referring to a group or set. Covey needed a group to help him whip Douglass, and he tried to call one. The help called by Covey refused to lay a hand on Douglass and Anderson called this another triumph for Douglass. Covey was indeed exposed as a weaker being, both physically and mentally. He had to “cover up” that fight to maintain his small position within the slaveholding community. These events lead to Douglass’ rebirth into manhood and a hunger for freedom.
Douglass advised his comrades in the escape plot to “own nothing!” These words had double meaning, as Douglass wanted them to say nothing and eat the slips of paper. Anderson recalls Douglass’ writing on the “other lines” of his young master’s notebook. He did this in order to learn how to write, but it was very interesting to entertain the thought of the “other.” When Douglass speaks of Covey, he does not call him unintelligent and incoherent, but the language used suggests this fact. Anderson points out the way Douglass’s language lead to the readers realizing Demby’s control over his life and manhood prior to his death. Even though he died, he owned himself before death by not answering the requests of his overseer. Douglass did not have to take time out to say this, for his style of writing and language said it all. Referring to Douglass’ language, Anderson writes, “The scenes of reading and writing which he sets in the Baltimore home of Hugh and Sophia Auld have attracted the attention of students who detect in them what Gregory S. Jay has termed an "allegory" of Douglass's own rhetorical theory. But it would be more accurate to note how vividly the scenes themselves resist the objectifying force of allegory, which seeks to prescribe how a reader must perceive it. Douglass is interested in evading such prescription by putting the instructive text to his own use: as a copybook where he can insert "other" lines.
Anderson also notes Douglass’ view of the mistresses and concludes that Douglass maintains some sort of “union” with the slaveholders, which allow him to look deeper into their twisted minds and fate to describe them. The women’s hearts are turned to stone under the direction of their husbands and the land. A tiny slither of love and affection is inserted into Douglass’ narrative, and Anderson believes this to be evident when his Lucretia Auld bandages his head. Although she is unable to keep him from Covey, a moment of twisted motherly love is shown at that moment. Anderson believed Douglass to be a complex individual because of his ability to look deep within the characters of the slaveholders and give the best accurate account.
Works Cites

Gregory S. Jay, "American Literature and the New Historicism: The Example of Frederick Douglass," boundary 2 17 (1990): 211-42; revised and reprinted in America the Scrivener: Deconstruction and the Subject of Literary History (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990), 236-76.

Douglas Anderson,: The textual reproductions of Frederick Douglass. (Abolitionist). CLIO (1997)

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave: Written by Himself. (1845)

“A Slave by Form, Not by Fact” 7.9 of 10 on the basis of 3881 Review.