Frederick Douglass Rhetorical Devices Essay

This summary covers only an excerpt of “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” which contains only three chapters—six, seven, and eight-yet these chapters are still enough to capture of the impactful narrative of Frederick Douglass’ life. Frederick Douglass begins Chapter Six with his arrival in Baltimore as a young child, and the new life that awaited him there with the Aulds. The new family he was brought into was not as experienced with slaves as his former owners had been, and their inexperience showed.

His new mistress was uncomfortable with having someone subservient to her, and disallowed Douglass from acting with “crouching servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave. ” (Douglass 32) Mrs. Auld took it a step further and taught him the alphabet, a great taboo at that time. When her husband learned of this, he shut it down, “if you teach that nigger to read [… ] how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. ” (33); and as a result Mrs. Auld ceased teaching Douglass and developed a crueler attitude toward slaves.

It was only after Douglass was forbidden to read that he developed an appreciation and interest in learning. Through this incident, Douglass learned something, a revelation of sorts: he now understood “a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. ” (33) With this in mind, he vigorously set about teaching himself to read. One of his stratagems to further his education was to befriend the local white boys and exchange the little bread he had for the spare knowledge they possessed. Chapter Seven finds Douglass contemplating matters of great significance.

He discovered the “The Columbian Orator,” a book that would instrumental in shaping the course of his life. It contained examples of several emancipation speeches, from slavery to Catholic emancipation. Equipped with knowledge from this life-changing book, he fully realized how unfair slavery was. He thought dark thoughts pertaining to his existence, and cursed his reading ability since it opened his eyes to this cruel injustice. As time went on, Douglass began to hear of “abolition” and questioned its meaning. Gradually he came to discover its connotation for him and other slaves.

If he were to run away, there would be a place to go to, North. Inspired by “The Columbian Orator” and knowledge of abolitionism, he endeavored to learn to write. Writing proved to be harder feat than he thought. Only by challenging local boys in writing contests and writing on the leftover copybooks of his young master Thomas did Douglass manage to educate himself. Douglass starts Chapter Eight with a series of unfortunate events. Douglass’ old master Anthony died unexpectedly, leaving his property to his two children Andrew and Lucretia.

Since there was no will, all the property had to be evaluated so it could be divided equally between Andrew and Lucretia. Luckily, Douglass fell into Lucretia’s hands, escaping her crueler brother. Yet his luck was shortlived, for over the next few years, both Lucretia and Andrew passed away, leaving all their property in strangers’ hands. Chapter Eight concludes with an event that caused Douglass much grief. When all the property was divied up and sold, Douglass was fortunate and was able to remain with the household he was in previously—his grandmother was not so fortunate.

Even after having served their old master’s household for decades, it was obvious she would not have fetched a price in an auction. So she was sent to live in a little hut in the woods and left to fend for herself. II. Rhetorical Analysis Written in a way that can only be described as thoughtprovoking, throughout his biography “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” Douglass utilizes a variety of rhetorical techniques and devices, among which are ethos, pathos, and comical irony.

Douglass takes his experience as a child to persuade people of the horrors of slavery. His rhetoric not only captures the attention of his intended Northern audience, but also enraptures later generations of American people. Ethos is a rhetorical device Douglass uses with a deft hand. With his eloquent speech and elevated words, people were hard pressed to believe that Douglass had actually been in slave. “He became increasingly frustrated with the white friends who encouraged him to keep his plantation accent in his speech or a trace of slave’s servility in his manner. (Jennifer) Therefore, in his autobiography Douglass constantly concretes his authority in the matter of slavery by describing with detail the tragic life of his own experiences as a slave as well his observations of others. Douglass’ use of Pathos to stir the reader’s emotions is powerful. He most commonly uses suffering to kindle feelings of sympathy and shock. In Chapter Six, he recounts the suffering of Mary, slave of Mr. Thomas Hamilton, a neighbor of the Aulds. “The head, neck, and shoulders of Mary were literally cut to pieces.

I have frequently felt her head, and found it nearly covered with festering sores, caused by the lash of her cruel mistress. ” (35) Where ethos and pathos are popular rhetorical techniques, comical irony is rarer, which is why it is somewhat surprising how often it appears in Douglas’ autobiography; Mark Burns makes several interesting observations on this matter in his journal article “”A Slave in Form but Not In Fact’: Subversive Humor and the Rhetoric of Irony in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Burns points out that Douglass often writes one thing, but means either the complete opposite or something that is “significantly divergent from the literal meaning. ” (86) The following evinces Burns’ claim: when describing the Aulds, Douglass wrote that the two “were wellmatched, being equally mean and cruel. ” (Douglass 51) When people are “well-matched” are they not supposed to so in a charming sense? Not in terms of cruelty? But Douglass does not just limit his use rhetoric to the use of language, employing a large number of anaphoras as well.

Repetition has a strange effect, and the way Douglass uses it seems halting/jarring, like a caught breath. A powerful example of this is in Chapter Eight when he imagines his old grandmother dying alone in the heath. “She stands—she sits—she staggers—she falls—she groansshe dies—and there are none of her children and grandchildren present, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death[… ]. ” (49) The repeated “she” and use of dashes paints an image that seems altogether tragic and alone.

Moving beyond the more literary rhetorical techniques in “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” Douglass takes a unique take on the narration, recounting his tale from an early childhood. More often than not, children are discredited and their stories are taken with a grain of salt; yet Douglass manages to maintain his validity even when describing his life from the perspective of a child. Interestingly, this child’s perspective also gives his techniques of ethos and pathos more impact.

This is an aspect that Douglass’ narrative shares in common with Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield”, although that novel is fictional. Douglass’ audience was not impervious to his narrative, and his story reverberated throughout the North, helped by the references to Christianity. His writing is stylized to appeal in the educated Northern white people, since they had the potential to impact the most change. Since Northern white people were Christian, Douglass very sensibly used Biblical images and concepts to portray certain feelings and scenes in his narrative.

Even on this matter, Burns sees the Douglass’ use of irony, saying “Douglass’s strategy for activating irony in relation to religion is to first permeate the text with biblical and other religious allusions and images, and then to subvert or reverse certain of these. ” (92) One does not have to read far to see how true Burns’ statement is. The different types of rhetorical techniques/devices within “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” are numerous, yet not overwhelming.

Douglass manages to incorporate wildly different varieties of rhetoric into a comprehensive, impactful book. So well-written is the narrative that even in the twentyfirst century it is used as a prime example of good rhetoric. At the present, “rhetoric” has a negative connotation and has become a way saying someone is too clever with words. Rhetoric is an instrument, and as Douglass evinces with his autobiography, it is a tool that can be used for good.