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Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass: Rhetorical Analysis

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Fredrick Douglass depicts his own style of writing in his memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass, one of the most famous American slaves, has a writing style that is more old-fashioned, intimate, and direct. He belives that slavery should be should be abolished and he illustrates to the reader by telling his story. He shares how he tolerated being a slave and working for several slaveholders. Also how he overcame slavery and how he was able to become his “own master.” By clearly establishing his credibility and connecting with his audience, Douglass uses numerous rhetorical devices to argue the atrocity that slaves experienced; he uses ethos, parallelism, and tone.

Frederick Douglass uses parallelism when saying “I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial”(Douglass 49). This is one way that Douglass shows why slavery should be abolished; mothers could not care for their own children. Children were also not allowed to attend their mother’s burial and show respect. No mother wanted to give up their child, but they were forcefully separated. Douglass had no knowledge of where and when his mother was buried. Another way Douglass uses parallelism is when he says, “No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose” (51). This explains how their master had no heart or empathy for what he was destroying or who he was harming. He may have owned them, but did not care about them, he could do what he pleased, and there was no law prohibiting that. To imagine how his aunt felt is unbearable, it is sad to think about the unnecessary misery many slaves went through. No person regardless of skin color should ever go through what slaves went through.

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In Chapter 5, he uses ethos when he says “in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me…” (75). Douglass is expressing to us that he believes that he will be free one day, he will be the one to tell his own story. It is a fact that not every slave was able to be free, many slaves died as slaves. Douglass was apart of the group of free slaves that were able to recollect the experiences of what they went through. Another way he used ethos is when he states “The more I read, the more I was lead to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery”(84). Douglass experienced slavery first hand during his childhood, and remembered his old desire for knowledge and education in his youth; he valued education and knowledge as power. He is letting the reader know that there will always be a part in you that knows where you came from and what you dreamed your life would be. He knew that he was not meant to be a slave forever, even though some people died a slave they were free once they died. Douglass believed that slaves should have the right to learn. He knew that there were white, educated people who could teach him how to read, and also believed he would meet those people, and so he did. When he use to work for Mr. Auld, Mrs. Auld taught him the alphabet and how to read, but that did not last long once Mr. Auld found out. Douglass took advantage of the time he had, and shared it with other slaves. He felt that with all the hard work they did, learning how to read should be their reward.

Throughout the narrative, Frederick Douglass has several different tones. At some points he is reserved; Other times, he’s angry, or emotional. In many parts, when he is sharing the different beatings him or another slave received, his tone is somber. Douglass did not have many whippings but he witnessed and heard of many of them. The way he explained the whipping was reserved but reading it may have disturbed the audience. He explains it in a way the reader can visualize it (imagery). Douglass’s angry tone begins to surface when he fights Mr. Covey in Chapter 10. Douglass was not going to put up with how Mr. Covey was handling him. His tone was kind of proud and angry because he got into several fights but was rarely whipped. Douglass was more furious that he still had to work for Mr. Covey after their confrontation. Also in Chapter 10 his tone became emotional when he was at Chesapeake Bay. “You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swifted-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! O, that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! Betwixt me and you the turbid waters roll. Go on, go on. O that I could also go! Could O but swim! If I could fly! O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am let in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it…”(106-107). Douglass started to lose faith and was making a plan to run away. At this point he did not care if he lived or died, he just did not want to be a slave anymore. But he pushed through and eventually at the end of the story he was a free slave.

In conclusion, Frederick Douglass, an American slave, told the story of his life and how he became a free slave. By using parallelism, ethos, and tone he showed why slavery should be abolished. In using these rhetorical devices, Frederick Douglass makes an effective argument against slavery. His tone was the most effective in emphasizing the cruelness of slavery. Douglass and many other people are the reason black people are free today.

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