The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, titled “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, utilizes five key literary devices in order to better convey Douglass’s journey from enslavement to freedom. This includes the use of Imagery, diction, first person point of view, specific details, and allusion. Each of these is used to help convey the experiences of slavery, as well as the joys and fears of being a freed slave. The use of Imagery throughout the narrative engrosses the reader and provides him with a better sense of the ideas and experiences of Douglass.
An example of these is when Douglass looked out onto the Chesapeake bay, at which point he saw several ships with white sails. These struck him profoundly, acting as a beacon of light in the midst of his dark circumstances. These white sails seemed to be an idea of hope and freedom, the thought that one day he too could be like the ships, with nothing but the wind to guide him. Another example of Imagery is when Douglass first receives Sandy’s “Magical” root.
This was supposed to protect Douglass from further beatings by his slave masters, an idea that he easily discarded. In doing this, Douglass shows his difference from the other uneducated slaves, with the root making a distinction between how the educated and uneducated believe things occur. Still, Douglass did keep the root as a sort of last resort, an action that seems to show just how desperate Douglass was to ward off his abuse. The use of Diction throughout the story helps the reader to get a better sense of the mindset of Douglass.
One example of this is when Douglass was sent to work with Mr. William Gardner. Here, he described his change in ownership as being “Hired” out, almost as if he were an employee of his master, instead of being lent or borrowed. Douglass didn’t see this as abnormal, someone telling him who to work for without any regard for his own preference. Another example of word choice is when he describes is mistress as being a “Kind and Tender-hearted woman”, a description that leads the reader to imagine almost a mother, someone who cared for others.
He could have simply called her a “just” or “fair” woman, but instead he described her as motherly. Finally, when Douglass was describing his life constantly moving from owner to owner, he spoke on the fact that he truly did not have a home. In Douglass’s case, “The ties that ordinarily bind their children to their homes were all suspended. ” He truly did not have a place to call home, but this was almost a sort of freedom for him. He described the sense of home as “binding”, instead of “welcoming”.
In doing so, he truly shows that he did not understand the idea of belonging to a home or group, but instead being a nomad. It does not feel as though a home “binds” a child to it, but instead its a safe haven, somewhere that you can feel safe. By recounting the story in a first-person point of view, Douglass better conveys his story to the reader. In telling the story in such a way, Douglass appeals to the emotions of his reader, even their humanity, in an effort to show them just how abusive the situation of a slave holder is.
He does so in order to show both the effects of abuse on the slave and the owner himself. A story told in the third person can be percieved as detached, something that does not truly exist. But, by telling it from the perspective of one who actually endured the abuses, Douglass was able to make the story more credible and even make the reader think that such circumstances could happen to themselves. In telling the story in the first person, Douglass achieves his goal of appealing to the audience’s humanity.
No longer could they simply remain ignorant to the plight of a slave living in the south, but instead they now had to actually acknowledge the fact that they knew what was happening, and either act on this knowledge, or ignore it. The constant use of specific details in the autobiography gives the tale credibility and engrosses the reader. An early, but important, example of a specific detail occurs in chapter 7. Here, Douglass is detailing his dire situation. He wishes to expand his intelligence, but then is unable to begin doing so because of his status as a slave.
When Captain Anthony died, Douglass’s hatred of slavery was even more apparent, when he was “to be valued with the other property” as though he were an item, not a person. In doing this, Frederick was perceived by his owner’s heirs to be nothing more than a piece of property to be decided upon, not a person with hopes and dreams. Later in the tale, Douglass describes Mr. Hopkins, who’s “Chief boast was his ability to manage slaves. ” Hopkins was a cruel man, the poster child of slave handlers, and would enjoy beating and abusing his slaves.
In describing his living conditions in prison, he described it as “Much more comfortable… than we expected… Did not get much to eat, nor which was very good, but we had a clean room. ” In doing this, Douglass provides the reader with an idea of just how bad their lives were as slaves, when even a prison cell seemed to be a comfortable and clean set of living conditions. Finally, Douglass refrained from using any real in-depth details when recounting his actual escape from slavery to freedom.
He did this because he did not want slave owners to be able to use any of his methods against slaves themselves, which would endanger both abolitionists and slaves alike. Finally, the use of Allusion throughout the tale helps to show the great conflict of being free but a fugitive. Douglass compared his decision to that of Patrick Henry in deciding whether or pursue his own freedom or to remain a slave. Henry’s decision for “Liberty or Death” was an easy one, Douglass claims, as it was certain liberty or death.
In Douglass’s case, however, the liberty was extremely uncertain, with even after him having escaped the possibility of being returned as a fugitive slave remained. Douglass also compares himself to an “Unarmed Mariner [rescued]… From the pursuit of a Pirate” when describing his joy at obtaining freedom from slavery. Douglass also recalled the words of Thomas Jefferson, who despite being a slave owner, wrote that its practice was a “War against human nature itself. ” Finally, Douglass alludes to the story of Daniel in the bible, who had been thrown into a lion’s den but escaped unharmed through the help of God.
This situation seems similar to the one Douglass found himself in, with his extraordinary luck allowing him to survive something that most men did not. Frederick Douglass used five literary devices in his narrative in order to better convey his story to the audience. His use of Imagery, Diction, First Person, specific details, and allusion causes the story to be not only more realistic, but also more believable, by the audience. In doing so, he was better able to achieve his goal of conveying his story of slavery and freedom.
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