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Frederick Douglass' Ideas in Narrative of the Life

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During a time in which slavery played a large role in the structure of the United States, people were beginning to realize its negative effects on the people centered around it. Thus creating a group of people known as abolitionists. Among these people was Frederick Douglass, born a slave in 1818 he suffered tragedy after tragedy during his years. Once becoming a free man he wrote his story down for others to read. Frederick Douglass wrote, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, to show the dehumanization occurred amongst slaves by using ethos, pathos, symbolism, and irony. When Douglass first published his narrative he viewed it as a way to change the way in which people looked towards slavery. This wasn’t entirely the case as most white people at this time tried to shut down Douglass’s ideas and disencourage the influence that he gave. Most living in the South were astounded to see that a once working slave was able to write down his own story and share it with others. All in all, they were not pleased. However, many abolitionists who support Douglass, felt that his narrative showed the true meaning behind slavery and said that he was overcoming the odds.

Throughout his narrative its read that Douglass felt comparable to livestock and showed the true meaning behind not only his book but slavery itself; dehumanization. Frederick Douglass successfully uses ethos and pathos to show to his audience the emotions, empathy, and recollections of his life. He does this by using imagery and very descriptive memories to reveal how he felt. The book begins with Douglass opening up about not knowing his own age. Immediately, the use of ethos is being used. “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it”. He then goes on to say that from the slaves he’s met, he doesn’t know of anyone with this information. Slave masters were more looking to better themselves so they didn’t tend to share information with the slaves around them. Douglass then goes into sharing examples of specific events in which he suffered through as a child. By using an emotional appeal, in this case pathos, the audience is able to imagine the experiences in a way in which they can empathize with Douglass. For example, “I had been at my new home but one week before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my little finger”. The graphic description used by Douglass at this time causes the reader to feel the same nightmare type of fright that he must of experienced as a young boy. The use of these two rhetorical devices allows the reader to better connect with the time period and the harsh environment that not only Frederick Douglass had to endure, but all slaves.

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