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Weissman, S.M. (1975). Frederick Douglass, Portrait of a Black Militant—A Study in the Family Romance. Psychoanal. St. Child, 30:725-751.

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(1975). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 30:725-751

Frederick Douglass, Portrait of a Black Militant—A Study in the Family Romance

Stephen M. Weissman, M.D.

ONE OF THE MOST CHARACTERISTIC ASPECTS OF THE SLAVERY EXPERIence, for the slave, was its disruptive and destructive impact on the traditional family unit. In this paper I shall focus on a single individual, Frederick Douglass, and study the effect of this aspect of slavery on his personality development and identity formation. Douglass grew up, after the age of 5, as an essentially parentless slave child and, after escaping from slavery as a young man, went on to become a major nineteenth-century social reformer.

Although he was deeply affected by this lack of enduring, reliable traditional parental figures, he was nonetheless able to make a remarkably resourceful, creative adaptation to this traumatic experience. By studying Douglass's three autobiographies I hope to trace how this adaptation was in part achieved by the extremely imaginative, active use of childhood fantasy, in particular the family romance. I think that Freud (1908) regarded childhood fantasy from an adaptational point of view when he wrote:

The liberation of an individual, as he grows up, from the authority of his parents is one of the most necessary though one of the most painful results brought about by the course of his development. It is

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The author is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at George Washington University Medical School and a Faculty member of the Washington School of Psychiatry. Acknowledgments are due to Drs. Robert A. Cohen and Edward M. Podvoll for their invaluable help, criticism, and friendship.

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