In this passage from the 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass’s preaches the vile cruelty of slavery, and the power dreams can have on a slave through the contradiction in syntax and figurative language between the third paragraph and rest of the passage serves. Douglass wants to appeal to their humanity, the difference between man and beast, and the difference between white and black. Frederick Douglass is known for his eloquent writing, but he can also change his style in the blink of an eye to convey a powerful message or a contradiction.
An expert in syntax, can cleverly lead someone into a hidden message in the text which can be simply deduced through the sentence structure. In the passage, aside from paragraph 3, Douglass uses relatively normal length sentences that are commonly connected with non-fiction writing. This sets up a relatively bland, simple tone for the passage before Douglass, in the blink of an eye, reinvents the entire effect with a shortening of structure and dramatic altering of punctuation. In paragraph 3, he takes on a lamenting tone, a mournful tone that sings of the cruelty of slavery and the distant dream of freedom.
His sentences become shorter and more impassioned showing his increase in emotional output and pouring out of his deepest pains into these sentences. Also, the punctuation transforms from the blais period, which conveys little to nothing, to an exclamation point. Douglass has coaxed his audience into a stupor and blow them away with the power and emotion he places behind every short, crisp, emotional sentence. The litany of pauses also creates a greater atmosphere within the narrative.
In Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, his pauses allowed for anticipation to rise and caused a huge undertow of enthusiasm at every pause. Both men are excellent speakers, who are fighting for the freedom of their people, and they convey their weighty phrases with omnipotente pauses, boosting their audience with emotion. If you can appreciate Douglass’s syntax, then he can lead you, like the pied piper, into the deeper, powerful parts of his eloquent writing and unveil a whole world of meaning hidden below the surface.
Something as simple as sentence structure can illustrate how powerful a dream can be and the pain of having the dream just out of reach. Douglass pour a lot of information into his language, information that can be seen through the power and connotation of every word. The word choice in the passage, aside from paragraph 3, possess dark and brutal meanings such as “broken”, “crushed” and “tamed”. The words imply a descent from human to animal. Everything Frederick is is being stamped away, his intellect, his cheerfulness, and his disposition have all been annihilated.
His entire personae has been denatured into an unrecognizable from, his base form, an animal. Douglass invokes a reader’s basic moral and values that differentiate people from animals, such as love, happiness, and individuality to provoke them over the idea that these same values have be forcibly eliminated from slaves. Also, words implying white and purity are often found, “purest white”, “noble bay”, and “lofty banks”. Everything that is outside of his reach is pure and holy.
This parallels his dream, his dream is freedom and happiness, the dream of every man and contains the same wistful hope as any other. The difference is no matter what he does, this dream is out of reach, because he is black, a slave. He also uses “purest white” which not only implies goodness, but also white. He dreams of white, of what white men have, how he wants to have the same privileges as a white man. In the third passage, his language transforms into a sobbing, praying tone which illustrates hopefulness for his future and the wrongness of what he must go through.
His word choice is similar to the dialect heard within a church or other holy place. He speaks of the god and deliverance from slavery, he prays for another chance, he pleads for a opportunity so that one day he may be able to be like one of those ships on the bay. His holy word choice includes “angels”, “god”, “gallant” and “hell”. These words also directly affect a religious individual of the North. How can you stand by and watch as I am punished to hell and the world around me is a heaven which I dream to be a part of?
The invocation of humanity and religion is very powerful for any citizen of the North, a call to arms that then can’t resist if they believe themselves to be either human or religious. A master of writing, Douglass crafts his syntax into a complex trail leading to his underlying rhetorical purpose, the power of dreams and the cruelty of slavery. Also, his language is a call to arms to anyone who reads it, because it not only provokes their right to call themselves human, but also their belief in their religion.