Investigations of Frederick Douglass’s religiosity too frequently neglect his 1845 Narrative, perhaps because readers continue to accept that the Narrative should be understood as a critique of specific individuals or denominations rather than a challenge to core Christian principles. But in the Narrative Douglass deploys a series of subtle biblical symbols to rewrite the Bible and subvert “Christianity proper.” Most controversially, I claim that the root that Douglass eventually rejects as an impotent totem of “ignorant slaves” is both a representation of hoodoo rootwork and, crucially, Jesus Christ; nineteenth-century readers of the Narrative, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, recognized the atheistic potency of this symbol, but biblical illiteracy has elided it from modern readings.
- Frederick Douglass
- Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin
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