Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Enhance understanding with a teaching guide for the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which provides questions and activities for each chapter as well as a suggested bibliography for extended learning. This text is a great supplement for your Black History Month curriculum or when studying pre-Revolutionary America.
Page 3 of 3
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Throughout the narrative Douglass makes several important points over and over. Review the narrative to find quotes related to these points. Either write about them in your response journal or talk about them with a small group. Select from one of these major points:

• justice for slaves (and all men of color) is different from justice for whites
• no one can be enslaved if she or he has the ability to read, write, and think
• the way to enslave someone is to keep them from all learning
• slaves were treated no better than, sometimes worse than, livestock
• by encouraging depravity men come to learn to hate freedom
• the Christianity of the slaveholders is hypocritical and used to justify their actions
• white men fear that men of color will steal their jobs if they are educated and learn how to perform the job

Do research on one of the points above. Find information to support or refute Douglass's opinion. Report your findings to the class.

Review the names of all Douglass's masters. Discuss: Were these really the names of his masters? Why? Why not? If not, why do you believe they are not the real names and why did he select the names he did?

Review and discuss the concept that learning can be a curse (p. 55). Would Douglass still contend learning is a curse at the end of the narrative? Is learning ever a curse? (Education)

Read the preface and the letter that is included before the narrative. Discuss with your small group: What point is each of these men making? Why are these included with the narrative? Does the inclusion of these tell us something about how African Americans were regarded in the north? *

Go to the library and see what other information you can find about Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison. You might also explore some of the other men named in chapter eleven. Can you find information about any of them? Report your findings to the class. (History) *

Research slavery in the south. Which were the slave states? What was the philosophic/economic rationale for slavery? How many slaves were in each state at the time Frederick was a slave? What did the slaves do in each state? How did their treatment differ? From which states did most slaves escape? How did slavery end? When? Report your findings to the class? (History)

Research the history of slavery. In what other cultures has it existed? What happened to those cultures? How did it get started in the colonies? When? By whom? Where does it exist today? Present your findings to the class. (History) *

Discuss with your small group the intended purpose and audience for Douglass's narrative. Notice the frontispiece prior to chapter one: "Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1845, By Frederick Douglass, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts." What does this mean? What is its significance? (English)

Read one or more other slave narratives (listed in the bibliography). Compare them to Douglass's. Were their lives as slaves similar? Do they make some of the same points about slavery? Report your comparisons to the class. (English)

Research the life of Frederick Douglass. What were his accomplishments after escaping from slavery? Present your findings to the class.

Place this narrative in the context of other historical events. Make a timeline and present it to the class. (History)

Write a poem, song, essay, play, or short story that dramatizes your feelings about one or more parts of the narrative. (English)


This bibliography is designed to help build interdisciplinary units in which Douglass's narrative is one book in the unit.

The Civil War

Hunt, Irene. Across Five Aprils. Follett, 1964. Grossett & Dunlap, 1964.
Keith, H. Rifles for Watie. Crowell, 1957.
Beatty, Patricia and Phillip Robbins. Eben Tyne, Powdermonkey. Morrow, 1990.
Hansen. Joyce. Which Way Freedom? Walker, 1986.
Shura, Mary Frances. Gentle Annie: The True Story of a Civil War Nurse. Scholastic, 1991.

Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. Clarion, 1987.
Murphy, Jim. The Boys' War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray. Clarion, 1990.
Ray, Delia. Behind Blue and Gray: The Soldier's Life in the Civil War. Lodestar, 1991.
Rhodes, Robert Hunt. All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. Crown Publishers, Inc., 1991.

End of Slavery and Beginning of Reconstruction

Jordan, June. Dry Victories. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1972. Avon, 1975.
Meltzer, Milton. The Black Americans: A History in Their Own Words - 1619-1983. Harper & Row, 1984.

Blos, Joan. A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal. Scribner's, 1985. Macmillan Child Group, 1989.
Hurmence, Belinda. Tancy. Clarion, 1984.
Twain, M. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (1884). Bantam, 1981.

First Taste of Freedom

Lester, Julius. This Strange New Feeling. Dell, 1982. Scholastic, 1985.

Fast, Howard. Freedom Road. Crown, 1969.
Hurmence, Belinda. Tancy. Clarion, 1984.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Knopf, 1987. Plume, 1988.
Rinaldi, Ann. Wolf by the Ears. Scholastic, 1991.
Yates, E. Amos Fortune, Free Man. Dutton, 1950, 1968.

Fugitive Slaves

Hamilton, Virginia. Anthony Burns: The Defeat of Triumph of a Fugitive Slave. Knopf, 1988.
Rappaport, Doreen. Escape from Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom
Sterling, Dorothy. Black Foremothers. Feminist Press, 1979, 1988.

Bontemps, Arna. Black Thunder. (1935). Beacon Press, 1968, 1982.
Hurmence, Belinda. A Girl Called Boy. Clarion, 1982.
Smucker, Barbara. Runaway to Freedom: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Harper & Row, 1977. Harper Junior, 1979.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1852. NAL/Signet Classic.

Searching for Family Members

Hurmence, Belinda. Tancy. Clarion, 1984.

Slave Narratives

Bontemps, Arna. Great Slave Narratives. Beacon Press, 1969.
Davis, Charles T. and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. The Slave's Narrative. Oxford University Press, 1985.
Five Slave Narratives: A Compendium. Arno Press and The New York Times, 1968.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., ed. The Classic Slave Narratives. New American Library, 1987.
Lester, Julius. To Be a Slave. Dial, 1968. Scholastic, 1986.
Meltzer, Milton. The Black Americans: A History in Their Own Words - 1619-1983. Harper & Row, 1984.
Still, William. The Underground Railroad. Porter & Coats, 1872. Arno Press and The New York Times, 1968.
Weld, Theodore. American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839. Arno Press and The New York Times, 1968.

Hurmence, Belinda. A Girl Called Boy. Clarion, 1982.
Slave Ships from Africa, Tancy. Clarion, 1984.

Cable, Mary. Black Odyssey: The Case of the Slave Ship Amistad. Viking, 1971.


Fox, Paula. The Slave Dancer. Bradbury, 1973.
Johnson, Charles. Middle Passage. Atheneum, 1990. Plume, 1991.

Underground Railroad


Blockson, Charles L. The Underground Railroad: First Person Narratives of Escapes to Freedom in the North. Prentice Hall, 1987.
Petry, Ann. Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Crowell, 1955. Archway, 1971.
Quarles, Benjamin. Black Abolitionists. Oxford University Press, 1969.
Siebert, Wilbur H. The Underground Railway from Slavery to Freedom. Macmillan, 1898. Arno Press and The New York Times, 1968.

Gaines, Ernest J. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Bantam, 1982.
Hamilton, Virginia. The House of Dies Drear. Macmillan, 1968. Dell, 1978.
The Mystery of Drear House. Greenwillow, 1987.
Smucker, Barbara. Runaway to Freedom: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Harper & Row, 1977. Harper Junior, 1979.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1852. NAL/Signet Classic.

African Americans

Alexander, Rae Pace and Julius Lester (eds.). Young and Black in America. Random House, 1970.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1970. Bantam, 1971.
Carey, Lorene. Black Ice. Knopf, 1991.
David, Jay (ed.). Growing Up Black. Morrow, 1968. Pocket Books, 1969.
Hamilton, Virginia. Paul Robeson: The Life and Times of a Free Black Man. Harper & Row, 1974. Dell, 1979.
Haskins, James. Black Dance in America: A History Through Its People. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1990.
Black Music in America: A History Through Its People. Crowell, 1987.
One More River to Cross. Scholastic, 1992.
The Story of Stevie Wonder. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1976. Dell, 1979.
Witchcraft, Mysticism and Magic in the Black World. Doubleday, 1974. Dell, 1976.
Hughes, Langston, Milton Meltzer, and C. Eric Lincoln. A Pictorial History of Black Americans. Crown, 1956. Rev. ed., 1973.
Katz, William. Black People who Made the Old West. Harper Collins, 1977.
Myers, Walter Dean. Now is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom. Harper Collins, 1991
Webb, Sheyann and Rachel West Nelson. Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood Memories of The Civil Rights Days. University of Alabama Press, 1980. Morrow, 1980.

Guy, R. The Disappearance. Delacorte, 1979. Dell, 1979.
Edith Jackson. Viking, 1978. Bantam, 1978.
The Friends. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973. Bantam, 1974.
And I Heard a Bird Sing. Delacorte, 1987.
My Love, My Love or The Peasant Girl. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1985.
Ruby. Viking, 1976. Bantam, 1979.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House, 1959. NAL/Signet, 1961.
Hamilton, Virginia. Arilla Sun Down. Greenwillow, 1976. Dell, 1979.
Junius Over Far. Harper & Row, 1985; Harper Collins, 1985.
Justice and Her Brothers. Greenwillow, 1978. Avon, 1981.
A Little Love. Philomel, 1984. Berkley, 1985.
M.C. Higgins, The Great. Macmillan, 1974. Dell, 1976.
The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl. Harper & Row, 1983, Harper Trophy, 1983.
The Planet of Junior Brown. Macmillan, 1971. Dell,1978.
Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush. Philomel, 1983.
A White Romance. Philomel, 1987.
Zeely. Macmillan, 1967. Dell, 1978.
Irwin, Hadley. I Be Somebody. Atheneum, 1984.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Lippincott, 1960. Warner, 1988.
Myers, Walter Dean. Crystal. Viking, 1987.
Fallen Angels. Scholastic, 1988.
Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff. Viking, 1975. Avon, 1978.
Hoops. Delacorte, 1981.
It Ain't All for Nothin'. Viking, 1978. Avon, 1979.
Me, Mop and the Moondance Kid. Delacorte, 1988.
Mojo and the Russians. Viking, 1977. Avon, 1977.
Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights. Delacorte, 1992.
Motown and Didi: A Love Story. Viking, 1984.
The Mouse Trap. Harper & Row, 1990.
Scorpions. Harper, 1990.
Somewhere in the Darkness. Scholastic, 1992.
The Young Landlords. Viking, 1979.
Sebestyen, Ouida. Words by Heart. Little Brown, 1979. Bantam, 1981, 1983.
Taylor, Mildred. Let the Circle be Unbroken. Dial, 1981.
The Road to Memphis. Dial, 1990.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Dial, 1976. Bantam, 1978.
Song of the Trees. Dial, 1975. Bantam, 1978.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982. Washington Square Press, 1982.

Dionisio, M. "Responding to literary elements through mini-lessons and dialogue journals." English Journal, Jan. 1991, pp. 40-44.
Kane, S. "Turning teenagers into reader response researchers." Journal of Reading, February 1991, pp. 400-401.
Karolides, N. J. "The transactional theory of literature." In N. J. Karolides (Ed.), Reader response in the classroom: Evoking and interpreting meaning in literature, Longman, 1992, pp. 21-32.
Probst, R. E. Adolescent literature: Response and analysis." Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., 1984. Reed, A. J. S. and V. E. Bergemann. In the classroom: An introduction to education. Dushkin, 1992.
Reed, A. J. S. Reaching adolescents: The young adult book and the school. Macmillan, 1993.
Robertson, S. L. "Text rendering: Beginning literary response." English Journal, Jan. 1990, pp. 80-84.
Rosenblatt, L.M. Literature as exploration (4th ed.). Modern Language Association, 1983.
The reader, the text, the poem: The transactional theory of the literary work. Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.
The lost reader of democracy. The triumph of literature: The fate of literacy: English in the secondary school curriculum. Teachers College Press, 1991, pp. 114-144.
"Writing and reading: The transactional theory." In J. M. Mason (Ed.). Reading and writing connections. Allyn Bacon, 1989, pp. 153-176.
Small, R. C. "The junior novel and the art of literature." English Journal, October 1977, pp. 55-59.
"The YA novel in the composition program: Part II." English Journal, October 1979, pp. 75-77.
Zaharias, J. "Promoting response agility through literature for young adults." The ALAN Review, Fall, 1984, pp. 36-41.

Recent Critical Studies of Frederick Douglass

Andrews, William L. Critical Essays on Frederick Douglass. Macmillan, 1991
Davis, Ossie. Escape to Freedom: A Play about Young Frederick Douglass. Puffin: 1990.
Gates, Henry L., Jr. and Appiah, K. A,, editors. Frederick Douglass: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Amistad Press, 1994.
Huggins, Nathan I. Slave & Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass. HarperCollins: 1987.
McFreeley, William S. Frederick Douglass. W. W. Norton: 1991. Simon & Schuster: 1992.
Sundquist, Eric J., editor. Frederick Douglass: New Literary and Historical Essays. Cambridge University Press: 1990.


Currently Professor and Chairperson of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J. S. Reed had taught for 20 years on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Charlie was The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor from 1984 to 1990 and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author of Reaching Adolescents: Young Adult Books and the Schools (Holt, 1985), Comics to Classics: A Parent's Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens (IRA, 1988), and Point-Counterpoint: An Introduction to Education (Dushkin, 1991).


W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, Department of Language Education, received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For over 25 years, Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature in the classroom and in training future teachers in its use, lecturing and writing extensively on the subject. He developed and edited The ALAN Review from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a fully referred journal with an emphasis on articles with research and instructional significance. His research has had heavy emphasis on the content of literature instruction.

loading gif