The following passage came from the 1845 autobiography Narrativeof the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American slave. Read the passagecarefully, noting such elements as syntax, figurative language, andselection of detail. Then write an essay in which you identify thestylistic elements in the third paragraph that distinguish it from therest of the passage and show how this difference reinforcesDouglass’ rhetorical purpose in the passage as a whole.
In the autobiography, Narrative of theLife of Fredrick Douglass, Douglassutilizes simple yet powerfulsyntax, pedantic diction and poeticfigurative language to convey a toneof desperation and doubt to portrayhis conflicting desires and emotionstowards slavery, specificallyhighlighting the third paragraph withbasic sentences, rhetoricalquestions, imperative andinterrogativevoices, antithesis, metonymies, personification and allegories to emphasize avehement yet determined tone shiftwith respect to his pursuit of freedom.
For paragraphs one, two and fourthere is a desperate and doubtfultone because Douglass isextremely morose and frustratedwith his situation of slavery.His conditions and possibilities ofchanging his circumstance create adesperate tone. His vacillationbetween frustration andacceptance creates the doubtfultone.“I was made to drink thebitterest dregs of slavery, thattime was during the first sixmonths of my stay with Mr.Covey” (lines 2-3). “I wasbroken in body, soul, andspirit” (lines 12-13).
In contrast to the rest of the passage, thethird paragraph is quite unique because itshas the exclusive purpose ofdistinguishing and highlighting the toneshift towards the pursuit ofhappiness, therefore bringing out avehement yet determined tone.Douglass is very vehement towards his goals and freedoms pertaining to slavery.He wants to be free and enjoy the taste of a beautiful life.Douglass is also very determined towards his goals and freedoms and he iswilling to fulfill them the first chance and opportunity he gets.“Only think of it; one hundred miles straight north, and I am free!” (lines 49-50).“It cannot be that I shall live and die as a slave I will take to the water” (lines 51-52).
Paragraphs 1, 2, 4Sentence StructureThe structure of the sentences throughoutthe passage are simple and direct, havinglittle complexity to their understanding andseeming to reflect the simplicity anddirectness of Douglass’s message.Repetition:Repetition is found at the beginning ofpassage, in “work, work, work” (Lines6-7)to emphasize the conditions in which hefinds himself, as such is the purpose of theinitial paragraph.ParallelismParallelism is also used prominentlythroughout the whole passage to restateideas.Cumulative ClausesThe use of cumulative clausesallows any simple sentence toexpand further into the idea orthought of that sentence. Thereason why cumulative sentencesconvey Douglass’s opposingdesires is that his comprehensiveand passionate clauses permit theaudience to connect with his innerthoughts.AntithesisThe use of antithesis is not as prominent butthey seem to summarize the concept ofwhatever paragraph they may be in.
Sentence Structure“I was broken inbody, soul, and spirit” (lines12-13).Repetition“Work, work, work wasscarcely more the order ofthe day than of the night”(lines 6-7).Antithesis“The longest days were tooshort for him, and theshortest nights were toolong for him.” (lines 8-9)Parallelism“Thus I used to think; andthus I used to speak tomyself; goaded almost tomadness at onemoment, and the nextreconciling myself to mywretched lot” (lines13-17).Cumulative Clauses“My natural elasticity wascrushed, my intellectlanguished, thedisposition to readdeparted, the cheerfulspark that lingered aboutmy eye died; the darknight of slavery closed inupon Mel and behold aman transformed into abrute!” (lines 13-17).
Paragraph 3Sentence StructureAlthough the structure remains ratherunchanged in the third paragraph, itseems to adopt a separate feeling. Thisis so that the third paragraph conveysa meaning of urgency and suddenrealization, achieved through thesimple sentences resemblinginstantaneous thoughts.RepetitionIn the third paragraph, the mostrepeated word is “I” which is repeatedthroughout 34 times, done in emphasisof his intense personal emotions.Another important repeated term isthe word “O” which is also done toemphasize his sense of desperation.ParallelismWithin the third paragraph,the use of parallel structure isbalanced with the use ofrepetition to enhance hisfeeling of desperation earlyinto the paragraph.Cumulative ClausesThis expansion of simple sentencesseems to resemble a stream ofconsciousness style of writing.The third paragraph is like hisheart is speaking to the audience.AntithesisBoth antithesis reflect hisdesperation at the nature of hisslavery but also, and particularlyin the second one, his vehementdesire to end such misery.
Sentence Structure“I will take to the water” (line 53)“Let me be free!” (line 45)Repetition“O God, save me!” (lines 44-45).“O why was I born a man, of whom tomake a brute”(Lines 41-42)Parallelism“O that I were free! O, that I wereon one of your gallant decks, andunder our protecting wing! . . . Othat I could go also! . . . “ (lines37-41). “ I will run away. I willnot stand it” (lines 46-47).Cumulative Clauses“You are loosed from yourmoorings, and are free; I am fastin my chains, and am a slave!You move merrily before thegentle gale and I sadly before thebloody whip!” (lines 33-36)Antithesis“O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute!”(Lines 41-42). “I had as well be killed running as diestanding” (Lines 58-59).
Paragraphs 1, 2, 4For the first and last part of thispassage the author’s word choice ispedantic. An author would utilize thislevel of convoluted diction when hisemotions are overwhelming andsimple words do not suffice to describethe magnitude of the experience“My thoughts would compelutterance; and there, with no audiencebut the Almighty, I would pour out mysoul’s complaint, in my rude way, withan apostrophe to the multitude ofships: - “ (lines 29-32).The main difference between theseparagraphs and the third is that the voiceis expository, setting the stage forDouglass’s feelings and introducing theaudience to the first glance of hisunhappiness.“We were worked in all weathers. It wasnever too hot or too cold; it would it couldnever rain, blow, hail, or snow, too hardfor us to work in the field” (lines 4-6).
Paragraph 3In contrast to the obviouselaborate diction in the otherparagraphs, this part of thepassage places extra emphaseson personal pronouns. Thelong and complex word choiceis replaced with “I” and “me”to accent Douglass’s emotionsand perspective. This passageis his heart’s soliloquy and itplaces out it conflicting desiresby choosing words to make itmore personal.“O that I were free!O, that I were onthe one of yourgallant decks andunder yourprotecting wing!”(lines 38-39).The voice shifts from being explanatory to interrogative and imperative. This symbolizesthe transformation Douglass feels as he goes from being determined to doubtful. Theinterrogative voice is used to point out the self-questioning and the hesitation, while thestrong, imperative voice proves that determined side of him.
Paragraph 1, 2, 4The other paragraphs have little figurative language, but the little that is theresets the stage for the explosion of figurative devices in the third paragraph.The conceit here prepares the rest of the passage for the elaboratecomparisons used to bring out the main purpose and tone shifts. The vesselsin this quotation express the idea of being free, Douglass’ description of thesevessels reveal his longing to be free himself, but, as he states later, the shipsonly remind him that he is unable to travel because he is a slave.“Those beautiful vessels, robed Ipurest white, so delightful to the eyeof freemen, were to my so manyshrouded ghosts, to terrify andtorment me with thoughts of mywretched condition.”
Paragraph 3In this paragraph there is a myriad offigurative language in comparison tothe other paragraphs. In thisquotation, a metaphor is used.Fredrick yet again speaks of hisdiscontent through relating his slaveryto being confined in bands of iron.“You are freedom’s swift-wingedangels, that fly round the world; I amconfined in bands of iron!”The personification here yet againrefers to the ship that symbolizes theidea of freedom. The ship is referredto throughout the passage as a way ofexhibiting his desire for liberty.“The glad ship is gone; she hides inthe dim distance.”
Throughout this passage Douglass expresseshis developing ideals and emotions aboutslavery and what he should do to combat it.He bounces between taking assertive actionsand accepting his fate, and to convey thisdilemma to his audience he effectivelyemploys heavy diction, varied syntax andelaborate figurative language. Through theseliterary devices he is able to set the stage forhis conditions in the first, second and fourthparagraph, and allow his inner thoughts toflow freely in the third paragraph to make thepassage more emotional and personal. Thedistinct structure and unique stylisticelements make Douglass’s passage the cry forfreedom and demand for equality thatdominated the minds and hearts of theenslaved at the time.