Fredrick Douglass, an Abolitionist
The well-known abolitionist leader, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the 19th century and at a early age he realized that there was a connection between literacy and freedom, giving this the first step for his works. He became a prominent intellectual, advising presidents and lecturing on a range of causes.
Within his writings there are several autobiographies, including Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, An American Slave. This was written as a response to cynics who refused to accept that he was a slave, without a formal education; thus disapproving of his ideals.
Fredrick Douglass published his autobiography to advocate for freedom and to establish the truth about slavery by using rhetorical devices, which served to strengthen the abolitionist point of view. Fredrick Douglass narrated the hardships that he had to endure as a slave, while describing his life with rich and descriptive language. This does not only serve as an autobiography but also has a political purpose. He appeals to his audience by conveying his emotions and drawing empathy from the readers.
With, his works he tries to bolster people to understand his point of view and to finally, to be able to end slavery. He does excellent job writing with rhetorical devices and compelling descriptive stories. Throughout Fredrick Douglass’s autobiography, he implements pathos, ethos, and logos as a way to connect and persuade the reader.
In this autobiography the emotion mainly implemented is sympathy, which is not hard because of how slaves were treated as Douglass deeply describes. Implementing pathos he stated: “His presence was painful; his eye flashed confusion; and seldom was his sharp, shrill voice heard, without producing horror and trembling in their ranks.” Douglass uses words as painful, confusion, horror, and trembling to show how Mr. Gorge’s treatment and actions affected them, making it a pathos argument.
Another quote that’s pathos is when he narrates what occurred to Demby: “His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.” Words exactly like mangled body, blood, and brains definitely makes the reader feel all types of emotions. This reality that slaves had to endure, just like the one previously mentioned, stays vividly in the minds of the readers.
By recounting his experiences, he allowed to emphasize his hardships and how it felt to have no self-power because another person owned him. This also helped the readers to feel scared; just as he felt as a boy. Using this argument based on emotions helped connected with their pain. Pathos, for me, is the easiest form of rhetoric to find use and identify with. He constructs his ethical appeal, ethos, by fabricating an argument from the beginning of his memoir.
Fredrick Douglass starts by claiming that he did not know his birthday or a slave who did. “By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday”. This is not common in the 21rst century, since everybody knows his or her birthdays. In his time, mainly only white people were able to know this day, because of their position in society.
He makes a comparison that they didn’t know their birthday more than horses, which meant that their masters tried to keep their ignorance on high. By developing Christianity as a focus point, Fredrick Douglass’s credibility is supported. This clearly states the ethical asymmetries in the practice of slavery. “Mr. Covey’s forte consisted in his power to deceive. His life was devoted to planning and perpetrating the grossest deceptions.
Every thing he possessed in the shape of learning or religion, he made conform to his disposition to deceive. He seemed to think himself equal to deceiving the Almighty. He would make a short prayer in the morning, and a long prayer at night; and, strange as it may seem, few men would at times appear more devotional than he.” Douglass reveals the irony within Mr. Covey by exposing him as a sinner. This establishes an ethical paradox of being a Christian and a slave owner. “My awkwardness was almost always his excuse for whipping me”. The quote stated previously make no sense since “being awkward” is not reason to beat a person, not that it can ever be justified.
Beating up a person for any reason is considered to be irrational, since we couldn’t understand what being owned feels. This makes the readers see Mr. Covey as a bad person, reaching this conclusion by thinking logically. Douglass makes a convincing argument due to his logical and well-written autobiography. He uses sophisticated vocabulary along with specific geographic locations. He gives credit where it is due in order to avoid accusation of unjust bias.
Personification is also used throughout Douglass’s personal story. “Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition.” The passage above describes how Douglass watches ships sailing away from Chesapeake Bay. By personifying one of the ships in the eyes of freed men, he creates a very powerful connotation of being free. By doing this he laments his position in compared to the ship. At the same time, cleverly he created a connotation from the slave’s perspective by personifying the hip a “shrouded ghost”.
Throughout his autobiography he also introduces parallelism as a way to connect with the audience. “If a slave was convicted of a high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop… and “they find less difficulty from the want of beds, that the want of time to sleep.” These sentences demonstrate the strict dominance that owners had over slaves.
The first quote is a very long sentence, which Douglass introduced to emphasize the process that owners went through when they were being torture, making it seem almost dull to the slave owners and for the slave, totally comprehensible. They were so abused that they got slaves to believe that the plantation was a good place for them. Fredrick Douglass’s complex word choices and advanced sentence structure lead one to believe that his writing was intended to be read by an upper class. He had to prove that he was intelligent and should be taken seriously. He is able to be successful in establishing ethos, pathos and logos. By establishing himself equal to his audience, he is able to stimulate emotion and influence their feelings of a need for change, persuading them.
By desiring for his audience to understanding him, he establishes credibility, while connecting with the audience through rhetorical devices. He did an amazing job in writing this autobiography and integrating rhetorical appeals such as: appeals, personification and parallelism, showing his transformation from an uneducated slave to a very well known orator.