In this excerpt from Frederick Douglass autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), Douglass, a runaway slave, recounts his journey to freedom and describes the feelings and hardships that come with the life of a runaway slave. He illustrates this by informing the reader of his victory in gaining freedom, detailing his lonely and uncertain conditions, expressing his paranoia when dealing with free white men and untrustworthy colored men, and then offering a challenge to his fellow man to undergo the difficulties of a fugitive slaver’s life . Douglass purpose for writing his narrative was to inform readers about the hardships he faced as a fugitive slave in order to open the eyes of free men to the cruelties of slavery and to demonstrate that once he was free from his oppressor he became captive to a life of distrust and solitude.
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Douglass uses diction, detail, and syntax to better communicate his story to his audience.
Frederick Douglass diction resonates strong feelings within the reader by expressing the intensity of both the internal and external hardships he faced as a fugitive slave. Douglass [suffered] on behalf of merciless men-hunters who were too caught up in their business to feel remorse for the pain they caused. On the plantation Douglass was faced with inhumane, unrelenting conditions that caused mental and physical anguish. The southern white slave owners showed no mercy to colored men because they only saw slaves as a resource to earn a profit. Douglass escaped his brutal life as a slave and found his freedom, but eventually the loneliness of his newfound life set in. Douglass had broken his chains of slavery and his dream of freedom finally became a reality. At first he was satisfied with his newly obtained freedom, but then he became a social prisoner living in a constant state of fear and paranoia. Douglass diction strengthens his description of his life as a fugitive slave and creates a vivid, horrific image of life as a colored man in the days of slavery.
Frederick Douglass uses figurative language to heighten the internal conflicts that develop as he adjusts to life as a fugitive slave. Douglass felt relieved when he escaped [the] den of hungry lions, but he soon became overwhelmed and insecure in the midst of thousands. Douglass was relieved to escape the harmful and merciless conditions of slavery. He was introduced to a new life full of strangers, but he had trouble adapting to this new life because he felt helpless and alone. Douglass felt as if New York was a hunting-ground full of money-loving kidnappers who would force runaway slaves back into the shackles of slavery. New York was a perfect place for white bounty hunters to hunt down and capture fugitive slaves. Douglass was afraid of being caught by one of these bounty hunters and returned to his previous life as a slave.
Douglass figurative language intensifies his descriptions of the internal conflicts he faced as a runaway slave. Frederick Douglass syntax moves from simple nominal sentences to parallelism and finally to a lengthy cumulative sentence. Douglass opens with a strong juxtaposition of slavery and freedom and then switches to longer nominal sentences with an abundance of the pronoun I and parallelism that repeats what. When Douglass first arrived in New York he felt liberated, but that soon shifts to a feeling of loneliness. His use of the pronoun I stresses how lonely and isolated he felt in his new life as a fugitive slave. In the middle Douglass uses parallel structure by repeating in the midst of thousands and lie in wait, and then offers the reader a challenge. Douglass use of parallelism emphasizes the loneliness and fear he experienced as a fugitive slave in New York City.
Douglass challenges the reader to experience the hardships and emotional turmoil of a fugitive slave, so they can appreciate their freedom and not take it for granted. In the end Douglass starts a long cumulative sentence with dashes as punctuation and parallel structures such as wanting shelter, and no one to give it — wanting bread, and no money to buy it. The sentence expresses the hardships he and his brethren have faced, while also challenging the reader to put themselves in his position. The length of the sentence is meant to keep the reader waiting, just as slaves wait for their freedom, and the dashes are used to emphasize each new thought. Douglass uses syntax to express his feelings as a fugitive slave and help others comprehend the emotional turmoil that accompanies the physical agony that fugitive slaves endured.
Frederick Douglass wrote a powerful narrative that epitomized the turbulent life of a colored man in the age of slavery. His narrative created a controversy that helped change and shape our countryr’s history for the better. Douglass narrative had a powerful effect and influenced change for all enslaved colored men. Douglass narrative will continue to inspire and influence minorities to stand up for themselves and create their own path.
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