The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass: A slave in form, freed in fact

In Frederick Douglass’ narrative work, he states ” . . . and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” To me, this passage refers to Douglass’ place in society vs. who he has truly become.  Growing up as a slave and being an African American man, Douglass would always be seen as a man who could never amount to anything. People would see him and always assume that he was property, not a person. He would be thought uneducated, illiterate, and unable to think for himself. These assumptions made Frederick Douglass a slave “in form”.

However, Douglass would go on to prove all these assumptions extremely untrue. Despite the fact that he was thought to be just another slave, he proved that he was educated, a very strong writer, a great educator and a huge advocate for the abolition of slavery as well as women’s rights. Frederick Douglass was, “in fact”, one of the most influential American writers of his time.


Walt’s Barbaric Yawp

Toward the end of Whitman’s poem Song of Myself, he states that he will “sound [his] barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” I think the description “barbaric yawp” fits his attitude and this poem perfectly. When it was first published, Whitman’s poem was considered very graphic, inappropriate and even sacrilegious. Whitman’s informality, sensuality and confidence in his poem were interpreted as “barbaric” by many readers, and Whitman knew they would be when he published his work.

“Yawp” fits the poem aptly as well because Whitman’s poem was not a traditional poem. It was really more of an essay that bounced around from subject to subject, painting pictures of what life should be like. There was no rhyme scheme, no feet, and a lack of smilies and metaphors.

Whitman chose to describe his poem as a “barbaric yawp” because he knew that’s how it would be seen – and that’s how he wanted it to be written .

Walt Whitman – Song of Myself

“I have said that the soul is not more than the body/ And I have said that the body is not more than the soul/ And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is”

– Walt Whitman Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass

Throughout the poem, Whitman narrates different stages of discovery of oneself. He takes the reader though connection with nature, forming original thoughts and ideas, discovering sexuality, finding ones “place” in the world and finally praising the human being who can remain true to their Self.

These particular lines stood out to me because of the acknowledgment of neither body or soul being more important than each other. Both the physical and spiritual (and their growth) were discussed by Whitman in his poem, and he concludes that it is neither of these things that makes us greater than anything else – rather it is the importance and praise we give our Self when both our bodies and minds come together that completes a person and makes them significant.

The importance and emphasis on nature and education through life experience are similar to the short stories of “The American Scholar” and “Rip Van Winkle” that we’ve read in class. In both of these works, we see nature’s role in forming a person and helping them find themselves – Whitman speaks of this same experience towards the beginning of his poem when he talks about the grass.

I love this excerpt from Song of Myself because I feel like it completely sums up not just Whitman’s personal outlook on life, but the theme of the entire transcendentalist era of American Literature. In these three lines, Whitman expresses the belief that a person’s sense of Self is the most important physical and spiritual aspect of a being. The sense of Self is divine. A person – a true person who has created themselves from their own beliefs and thoughts and connection with nature, is greater than even God.


I am a junior transfer student at SFSU. My major is in dance and I am minoring in English. 

I have a passion for storytelling, performing, and fantasy. When I’m not studying or working, I like reading, writing, drawing, dancing, acting, watching movies and feeding stray cats that happen follow my down the street. 

I don’t know what else to say, I’m a fairly simple being. So if you have any questions just comment 🙂