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The Theme of Social Inequality in a Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass and a Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

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Social inequality occurs when certain resources such as wealth, privileges, and social justice from societies are distributed unevenly affecting more people than we realize. Frederick Douglass and Virginia Woolf are two very influential writers who suffered from these inequalities and used their talent in literacy to relay information and reality to their readers in order to make a change in the way people are viewed. Specifically Douglass wrote an autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, with the hope of gaining more rights for African-Americans, and in A Room of One’s Own, Woolf focused on bringing the unequal treatment of women to the public eye. Aiming to help two different groups of individuals these two writers still share so many characteristics and tactics; as well as differences when reading their writings. Later in this essay these similarities and differences will be expressed in more depth, and the ways these two writers were able to help shape the way people are perceived in today’s day and age.

Douglass and Woolf both came from entirely different backgrounds, but still found a way to fight for the similar causes during the changing years of the world’s past. Douglass was born during the 19th century directly into slavery. This allowed Douglass to base his narrative off of his past and his personal encounters that he faced while being held within the boundaries of slavery. Douglass was highly criticized for exaggerating the truth, saying that slaves didn’t really have it as bad as he wrote they did. This is made possible by him being a slave in Maryland, where slavery tended to be less extreme, and he was actually secretly able to learn how to read and write from the plantation owners wife. Nonetheless he was still a slave and treated poorly, and faced the same degrading psychological trauma the other slaves would have faced. In fact, “White lecturers on his circuit and patronized him, urging him to focus only on telling the story of his own life because, Garrison suggested a black man was not capable of analyzing slavery as a large-scale social problem” (232). Douglass breaking the boundaries of the Garrison organization (an antislavery organization) by not sugar coating the true reality he faced while being a slave, then he wouldn’t have started his own antislavery newspaper, and may not have had as much success during the campaign to end school segregation. He didn’t let slavery hold him back from striving to help create a better life for African-Americans and continued to break many boundaries that many African-Americans would attempt to do. For example, “When the civil war broke out in 1861, Douglass led efforts to persuade Congress to allow African-American men to enlist in the union Army” (233), this would mean he was willing to fight side by side with white men in order to help fight for black suffrage against the south.

Virginia Woolf was a feminist writer during the 20th century that broke many boundaries of society as well. She went against many social rules that women were to obey by, which was very impressive to her readers since she too was oppressed by the boundaries that men and society created. She seen how much of an inferior gender women were seen as from men and built her whole stance off of the idea that women will struggle to break the restraints that hold them back from being on the same economic level as men. Specifically she was highly interested in expressing the difficulties that a woman writer would face. “A woman must have money and a room of her own is she is to write fiction, and that as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature fiction unsolved” (339). She even writes about an incident about being stopped at the library. “A deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction” (342). She believed women couldn’t reach the same impact that other successful men writers were able to do, due to the power men held in society. She wrote about that if woman had the same resources that men did then there would be female versions of people such as Shakespeare. For instance, Woolf creates a fictional character, Judith Shakespeare. She imagines Judith as the sister who never got the same opportunity as Shakespeare himself. “That woman, then, who was born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth century, was an unhappy woman…..All the conditions in her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain” (367). Like Douglass she too was willing to break boundaries in order to expresses the limitations of African-Americans and women in the world. As one may see both of these writers are determined to make a difference in social power even know they’re both focused on two different specific groups, but both can help both causes. For example Douglass was also a supporter of gender suffrage not just racial suffrage, which can be seen in Frederick Douglass’s biography, “In 1848 he attended the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, and he emerged as a stalwart champion of Women’s suffrage,” (233). [ER1]

They also share differences in their textual tactics as well. For example, Virginia Woolf uses her extended essay in a way that is constructed as a partly-fictionalized narrative of the events she was going through while developing her thesis. While Douglass on the other hand seems to resort to more nonfiction when describing personal past events, because it is made aware that he is angered by the powerful voice of that white writers had telling Douglass that he shouldn’t exaggerate his past in slavery, which could entail that he was angered by the people believing the true evils slaves face. “The motto which I adopted when I started from slavery was this– “Trust no man!” I saw in every white man an enemy, and in almost every colored man cause for distrust” (284). Even with that being said if both writers used some fiction or exaggeration in their writings then it helped gain the reader’s eye, which allows for their expression of belief to be seen by others. Their capability of encasing personal issues from a first person point of view helps the reader perceive the writer’s purpose and ideology from the personal perspective they share. With that being said a somewhat fictionalized tonality at times when either Douglass or Woolf possibly withhold information that would lead readers to perceive their words into a different perspective, but on the other hand this aspect allows for a more in depth insight into their lives.

If it wasn’t for these literary idols being discussed then today may not be what it is. For example, without their publications the horrors of society wouldn’t be brought to the public eye. The idea of only certain problems being put in the spotlight can be seen still today, even know modern society has so many more tools of communication then in Virginia Woolf and Frederick Douglass’s time. In today’s society with the media only showing certain problems in the U.S. due to ratings, rather than showing the horrific important acts of cruel barbarism seen in our nation or world. Instead of all viewers of a television network being seen as one there still is the issue of seeing the viewers in categories determined by race and gender. Instead of a network broadcasting news for everyone to hear they put the one on that will gain the most views from specific communities. Examples would be the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Indian Pipeline Protest. There is so many examples, but these two specifically can be used in multiple ways. For instants, both are huge problems, but one gets way more air time then the other. At one point in time as soon as you turned on the tv or social media all a person would see was Black Lives Matter updates; which is great. Even know a lot of social media was taking it out of context and starting way more problems, but the issues were still getting out there. With the Native American Pipeline protests many people surely never heard about the problem, or the extremity of it for that matter. How come they don’t get as much air time as the Black Lives Matter Movement? Only the news networks could say the truth behind that, however the assumption of population numbers being the reason behind that.

Douglass and Woolf were both two very influential writers who used their literacy to relay information and reality to their readers in order to make a change in the way people are viewed, by breaking down the structure of social and economic power. Douglass wrote, A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, with the hope of gaining more rights for African-Americans, while also showing his readers what he was remarkable for. On the other hand, Woolf in A Room of One’s Own, focused on bringing more attention to the unequal treatment of women and their prevention of economic justices. These two writers used similar and different tactics and were successful in helping to shape the way people are perceived in today’s society. Although there is still inequality and discrimination in today’s day and age the modern world has continued to progress in the direction that the two discussed literary authors were aiming to reach, and it is interesting enough to see the multiple techniques people use just like how Douglass and Woolf distinguished themselves with the way they expressed both of their ideologies.

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The Theme of Social Inequality in A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass and A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. (2018, September 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
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