Frederick Douglass recounts his experiences as a slave in Maryland, and his treatment at the hands of slave masters and overseers, before managing to escape to freedom in the north of the United States.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
7th Grade Informational Text 1120L
Frederick Douglass: A Biography
Passage Summary: This biography of Frederick Douglass provides an overview of his life and work as an abolitionist.
When and How to Pair: Have students read this text before they begin reading the novel in order to provide students with an overview of Douglass’s life and the accomplishments he went on to achieve after slavery. Pair “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Frederick Douglass: A Biography” and ask students to identify the contributions Douglass made to social change during his lifetime.
5th Grade Poem 900L
Learning to Read
Passage Summary: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911) was the child of free African American parents. In her adult life, Harper helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad and wrote for abolitionist newspapers. In this poem, Harper describes what it was like to have been discouraged from learning how to read.
When and How to Pair: Pair “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: Chapter VII with “Learning to Read” and ask students to draw parallels between Douglass’s experience with Mrs. Auld, and what he learnt from the Sheridan texts, to the speaker in Watkins Harper’s poem. Have students consider the importance of education, both past and present, particularly in the lives of African Americans and the discrimination they face. How did the value of an education began to shape Frederick Douglass’s thoughts? How does Harper use the poem to emphasis the importance of reading?
10th Grade Speech 1070L
Speech on Slavery
Passage Summary: Abraham Lincoln was well known for his opposition to slavery, believing that it went against the core principles of the nation’s Founding Fathers. In this text, Lincoln contrasts slavery with its better counterpart, free labor, and aligns it with the necessity of equality in society.
When and How to Pair: Pair “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Speech on Slavery.” Introduce this text to students after they have read Chapter VII, and learnt about Frederick Douglass’s growing sense of his wretched condition as a slave. Ask students to compare Douglass’s developing thoughts and argument with the case that Lincoln makes. Ask them to outline both the similarities and differences in order to gain a broader sense of the different arguments against slavery.
11th Grade Allegory 1150L
Allegory of the Cave
Passage Summary: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a piece of philosophy explaining the importance of knowledge in society and for the human soul.
When and How to Pair: Pair “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Allegory of the Cave.” Have students read the allegory after they have finished reading Chapter VII and learned how Mr. Auld stopped his wife from teaching Douglass to read. Ask students to apply the allegory to Douglass’s awakening, the revelation that Mr. and Mrs. Auld provide, and how he is forever changed thereafter. How has Douglass recognized what the light is in his life? How has Douglass been previously kept in a cave?
10th Grade Legal Document 2650L
Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
Passage Summary: The Fugitive Slave Act was enacted by the United States Congress in 1793, and then later renewed in 1850. This act guaranteed slave owners the right to recover run-away slaves. When the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, abolishing slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act lost its power.
When and How to Pair: Pair “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.” Introduce this text before students read Chapter X and learn about Douglass’s plot to escape with other slaves. Use the text to help ground students with a sense of the risk faced by those slaves who desired to escape to the North. What kind of legislation was Douglass, and other slaves who wanted to escape, up against? Ask students to use the Fugitive Slave Act as a tool to discuss what considerations Douglass might have taken into account, had he managed to make his escape.
9th Grade Memoir 930L
What Slaves Are Taught To Think of The North
Passage Summary: Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897), who wrote under the pseudonym Linda Brendt, was an American slave who eventually escaped and became an abolitionist. “What Slaves are Taught to Think of the North” is a chapter from Brent’s memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861. In it, Jacobs provides a true account of her experience as a slave, and writes about the lies slaveholders told their slaves to keep them from running away to the North.
When and How to Pair: Pair “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “What Slaves are Taught to Think of the North.” Have students read the text after they have read Chapter X and digested Douglass’s comments on religious slaveholders like Reverend Weeden and Reverend Hopkins. Have students analyze the different ways that both Douglass and Jacobs highlight the hypocrisy of southern slaveholders. How do both Jacobs and Douglass make a case against slavery and slaveholders?
9th Grade Psychology 1130L
Passage Summary: In this article, McLeod discusses classical conditioning, a way of changing a person’s behavior by exposing them to different experiences, and experiments carried out using this method. One 1920 experiment showed that classical conditioning can be used to create a phobia, not only in animals but potentially in humans as well.
When and How to Pair: Pair “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Classical Conditioning.” Introduce the text after students have read Chapter X and learnt about the way Mr. Covey was able to break Douglass’s spirit. Have students apply the theory of classical conditioning to Douglass treatment and consider the ways that brutality and dehumanization might have led to conditioning the the thinking and behavior of slaves.
11th Grade Informational Text 1380L
Causes of the American Civil War
Passage Summary: In “Causes of the American Civil War,” the informational text explores the causes of the American Civil War and the growing hostility between the Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders.
When and How to Pair: Pair “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Causes of the American Civil War.” Have students read the text after they have completed the book. This text can be used to help students identify and understand the political tensions between the North and the South that marred the United States at the time of Douglass’s writing, and the subsequent war that followed. Ask students to consider the issues that divided the country at the time, and the issues that divide the country today. How did different groups of people respond to the issues during the time leading up to the Civil War? How do different groups of people respond to divisive issues today?
8th Grade Letter 1220L
Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman
Passage Summary: In this “Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman,” Douglass praises Tubman for her work in the abolitionist movement as a biography about her life is being prepared.
When and How to Pair: Pair “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman.” Introduce this text after students have read Chapter XI, after Douglass informs the reader why he has decided to not include details of his escape and criticizes the public nature of the Underground Railroad. Consider informing students that Tubman was an abolitionist who was a key member of the Underground Railroad movement, and that the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” was written before Douglass’s correspondence with Tubman. Ask students to consider his earlier criticism. Have students contrast this criticism with his letter, the references to his subsequent public work, and Tubman’s private profile. In retrospect, what kind of irony does the letter present? How has the public profile of Frederick Douglass caused his attitude to differ from his attitude as a newly-escaped slave?
10th Grade Informational Text 1300L
Abolishing Slavery: The Efforts of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln
Passage Summary: In “Abolishing Slavery: The Efforts of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln,” Mike Kubic discusses how two historic men worked to end slavery in the United States.
When and How to Pair: Pair “Narrative Of The Life of Frederick Douglass” with “Abolishing Slavery: The Efforts of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.” Introduce the text after students have completed reading the book. Ask students to consider how Douglass’ narrative later influenced him as an abolitionist. What were some of the key moments in Douglass’ early life that helped shape his attitudes? How does Douglass’ narrative help make a case for abolition?
10th Grade Informational Text 1040L
The Revolutionary Rise of Abolitionists
Passage Summary: The informational text “The Revolutionary Rise of Abolitionists” discusses the various degrees of support the anti-slavery movement received between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
When and How to Pair: Pair “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” with “The Revolutionary Rise of Abolitionists.” Consider using this text after students have completed the book, as a useful source to provide historical context on the period preceding Frederick Douglass’s narrative. Ask students to draw on both the text and the book in order to discuss the climate of the times, the view of the abolitionists and the entrenched idea of slavery in the southern region of the United States. How does the text help support Douglass’s narrative? What are the different kinds of context it provides that are not explicitly expressed by Douglass?