rhetorical analysis of frederick douglass

Slavery, the dark beast that consumes, devours, and pillages the souls of those who are forced to within its bounds and those who think they are the powerful controllers of this filth they call business. This act is the pinnacle of human ignorance, they use it as the building blocks for their “trade,” and treat these people no more than replaceable property that can be bought, sold, and beaten on a whim.

The narrative of Frederick Douglass is a tale about a boy who is coming of age in a world that does not accept him for who he is and it is also told as a horror that depicts what we can only imagine as the tragedies placed on these people in these institutions of slavery. It is understood as a chronicle of his life telling us his story from childhood to manhood and all that is in between, whilst all this is going on he vividly mixes pathological appeals to make us feel for him and all his brethren that share his burden. His narrative is a map from slavery to freedom where he, in the beginning, was a slave of both body and mind.

But as the story progresses we see his transformation to becoming a free man both of the law and of the mind. He focuses on emotion and the building up of his character to show us what he over time has become. This primarily serves to make the reader want to follow his cause all the more because of his elegant and intelligent style of mixing appeals. Through his effective use of anecdotes and vivid imagery he shows us his different epiphanies over time, and creates appeals to his character by showing us how he as a person has matured, and his reader’s emotion giving us the ability to feel for his situation in a more real sense.

This helps argue that the institution of slavery is a parasitic bug that infects the slave holder with a false sense of power and weakens the slave in both body and spirit. We can first begin with his appeal to ethos because as the story progresses he seems to go through epiphanies that help us to understand the man he is becoming and see the journey at its key points along the way. His first sense of understanding and first sense of fear as a child happened when he saw his first beating.

Normally as a child he was spared from the truth and violence of what slavery really was but when he did finally become a witness he asks us to try and imagine what it was like. He did not feel the pain or suffering, but realized the disturbing nature of slavery. It is rather simplistic but the coming to fruition of knowing what slavery really is and that he is part of it was rather groundbreaking. Shortly after at the age of seven, Frederick is sent to Baltimore to live with a different set of masters. Following his arrival he begins to understand the power of education and the effects that it has on the world of slavery.

There were ways to acquire ones freedom, and Douglass knew education of one them. With education brought freethinking, and in-turn could’ve caused revolts. This explains why slaves weren’t allowed to have education but Douglass was determined to make it happen. His opportunity to learn how to read and educate himself is his second epiphany that he shares with us because it reveals to him the power of the white man. He describes that it is not the power of the white man, but rather that he keeps his slaves ignorant to the truth that they could have something better, and that’s where his “power” comes from; ignorance.

After sometime he began to be troublesome to one of his owners and was sent to a “slave breaker,” Covey and for a long time he felt defeated. He was trapped in the mental state of that of an animal. His upcoming epiphany happens when he realizes that he would rather die than live as a slave and this triggers a two hour fight with his master and after that day he was never whipped again, a small victory in the mind of his but it led the way to him becoming a free man. He soon tries to escape but fails on his first attempt but later a second attempt grants him his wish, with a trip to New York and then Massachusetts.

He then realizes that his purpose in life is to abolish or at least help abolish slavery, and that is the underlying purpose of his narrative. To enlighten those who do not truly know what it’s like as a slave, and to maybe change the way people think about it, and to bring about action to stop the senseless act that is slavery. Throughout the narrative, Douglass brings beautiful insight to the thought the public had now become aware of what the true nature of slavery had become.

His quotes show the brutality that was endured by the slaves both mentally and physically but he also describes that they were not the only victims. “Thus is slavery the enemy of both the slave and the slaveholder,” (p31. ). Slaves did face estrangement, beatings, humiliations, and many other cruelties. However the slave owners fell prey to the imperfections of humanity and become monsters from the inside out. They became violent, greedy, cruel, and merciless to anything or anyone who dare challenge their authority.

This is very prevalent with Sophia Auld, her kind mistress that taught him how to read. She was kind to him and was not plagued by the same natures that the owners normally share. But as time passed so did her personality, and as she was confronted about teaching Frederick to read her personality completely altered for the worst. She grew into the shoes of a normal slaveholder and began to relish in the power that she had for so long ignored. He included this example to show how infectious the disease of slavery really is.

Normally throughout the story Douglass showed us the cruel, the horrifying, and the brutal but when he uses positive imagery it is all the more powerful and shows us the light that he was aiming for his entire life. One passage of is shows the true character of this man as he states “the work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed,” (p. 59). He was a man of compassion and had a deep sense of sympathy for all of those who still suffered with the life in servitude.

His experiences help him to relate as he tries to teach them to read and he explains that the community they share is valuable and truly important for all of them. Frederick Douglass, at heart, was not a slave and his life’s work was to end what he had come to be familiar with. He said that when he spoke with a white man he felt “weighed down” but felt at home when he was with his brethren and this can only be understood because people at their core will choose to assimilate with those who are similar to themselves.

He throughout his story shows humility and his large amount of self-confidence and as we know from history his speaking ability captivated many as his words flow through the air and grasps your mind tightly while he educates you on his life. He is one man who tried to make a difference and succeeded because with an opportunity he refused to let the world he knew stay the way it was, and from then on Frederick Douglass succeeded making change.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass and American Slave. New York: ModernLibrary, 2004

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