Rhetorical Analysis of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Updated May 27, 2021

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Rhetorical Analysis of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass essay

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In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass brought to focus the institution of slavery and how slaveholders immoral ways mentally and emotionally debilitated African Americans. The narrative was published in 1845 and has remained an important work in order to understand the detrimental effects of slavery. His unique view of slavery, through different experiences and different locations, was used to his advantage as he explores all the aspects and common justifications for slavery at the time.

At the time, slavery was an important economic necessity for the south as their cotton industry depended on the quick, labor intensive work that slaves did. In chapter 4, Frederick gives ample insight into the regime of overseers and discusses the unjust nature in which white people in the south would get impunity when they committed heinous murders towards an African American man or woman. Over the chapter as Douglass reflects on the odious behavior of overseers, the insignificance of slaves lives is prevalent as slave society rejects equality and nurtures monstrous people into even more detestable versions of themselves.

Frederick Douglass introduces chapter 4 by shining a light on the cruel nature of overseers after his undoubtedly better experience with Mr. Hopkins. Overseers played an important role on the development of slaves as they continuously struck slaves down until they felt completely dehumanized. The details of Mr. Gore’s treatment of slaves was emphasized by the use of antimetabole to show the hatred he spread. Mr. Gore was a despicable man with a rigid agenda to break the souls of those he was an overseer to; on page 12 Douglass states that, “he was just the man for such a place, and it was just the place for such a man”(12; ch. 4).

By doing this switching and comparison of the two sentences, it makes it clear that the institution of slavery was well represented by Mr. Gore and the other way around. Slavery gave people like Mr. Gore an area to exert their harsh natures. Douglass describes that the fact that people like Mr. Gore were seen as leaders in society was atrocious. Mr. Gore was ambitious to preserve the institution he felt sacred and to dehumanize slaves to the point of no return. Gore expected immediate satisfaction after orders.

This is exemplified by the use of anadiplosis as Douglass writes, “ He spoke but to command, and commanded but to be obeyed”(13; ch. 4). The word command evokes strong feelings as to how brutal he was about what he said. This well explains the severity of slaves doing anything other than what was told of them. Douglass wanted to portray that slaves never had a second of emotional freedom as they were tormented day and night. He vouched that this treatment should be eradicated immediately because of the outcomes.

Towards the end of the chapter, Frederick focuses on the repulsing aspects of slavery such as white people getting away with murder. His stories of the murders of African Americans reach towards the sensitivity of northern christians. Douglass describes the story of Demby; Demby was receiving lashes from Mr. Gore when he ran into the creek. Mr. Gore proceeded to yell at him three times. Demby did not respond and then on the third call “Mr. Gore then…raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more”(14; ch. 4).

There were many viewers of the atrocious act committed and the emotional damage was irreparable. Douglass argued that this and other acts of violence were parts of the reason he will never forget what slavery for what it really stood for. Colonel Lloyd asked him why he killed him and Gore’s defense was satisfactory. Douglass continues to give more examples to show that this was common, cruel, unjust and how easily they would get away with it. The wife of Mr. Giles Hick was another example. Douglass stated that she had “murdered my wife’s cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age, mangling her person in the most horrible manner, breaking her nose and breastbone with a stick, so that the poor girl expired a few hours afterword”(15; ch. 4).

This absolutely villainous act was committed because the girl had fallen asleep while taking care of a child and it had started crying. Mrs. Giles Hick was exculpated of her crime because the community did not see value, other than numerical, in the girl in the first place. Douglass ends the chapter with an aphorism that he said was widely popular among everyone, even little boys; he states that “it was worth a half-cent to kill a “n*****” and a half-cent to bury one”(15; ch. 4). The rhetoric used clearly conveys that slaves in the southern society had been dehumanized relentlessly.

Abolitionists at the time were battling this injustice fiercely but struggled because of the popularity slavery had gained and the benefits non-slaveholders enjoyed. As Douglass reflects on his life as a slave throughout the book, chapter 4 hits at some of the most malicious actions that had significant impact on him. Emotionally scarring events, such as the witness of Demby’s death, were pressed into the souls of slaves and gave them a hopeless outlook on life. These events and conditions expressed were vital to his later pursuit of complete emancipation and fueled his hatred for the institution.

The rhetoric that was used helped display the emotional implications of a life in bondage and and the emotionless life that overseers like Mr. Gore had. From the use of rhetoric in the narrative, Douglass makes his point clear and appeals to northern christian women to gain movement in the north. The immorality of slavery still plagued southern society and Frederick Douglass showed that excellently through his personal credibility to such a harsh, torturous setting.

Rhetorical Analysis of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass essay

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Rhetorical Analysis of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/rhetorical-analysis-of-narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass/


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