Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: A Masterpiece of Propaganda

When was the last time you were exposed to propaganda? If you think it was more than a day ago, you are probably unaware of what propaganda really is. According to Donna Woolfolk Cross in “Propaganda: How not to be Bamboozled,” propaganda is “simply a means of persuasion” (149). She further notes that we are subjected daily to propaganda in one form or another as advertisers, politicians, and even our friends attempt to persuade us to use their product, vote for them, or adopt their point of view. Propaganda is usually considered in a negative sense. However, when viewing propaganda as mere persuasion, one can readily appreicate that it is neither good nor evil: the good/evil effect is the direct result of the purpose for which it is used.

Politicians and leaders have long used propaganda to further their goals; Hitler’s use of propaganda as a means of controlling the populace of Nazi Germany is the most recognizable twentieth century example of propaganda used for evil. On the other hand, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he urges non-violent resistance in the cause of racial equality, portrays persuasion used with good intentions. Although oratory, as in King’s speech, is a highly effective means of delivering ideas or doctrines, the written word can be an even more influential medium. In the early days of America, long before instant communication, literature was used extensively as a means of persuasion. As early as 1631, John Smith wrote “Advertisements for the Unexperienced Planters…’’ to encourage settlement in the new world; indeed, much of classical early American literature was written as prop...

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.... James P. Draper. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. 583-585.

Birk, Norman P. and Genevieve B. Birk. “Selection, Slanting, and Charged Language.” Language Awareness. Ed. Paul Escholz, et al. New York: St. Martins Press, 1994. 47-55.

Cross, Donna Woolfolk. “Propaganda: How not to be Bamboozled.” Language Awareness. Ed. Paul Escholz, et al. New York: St Martins Press, 1994. 149-159.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: 1845. Rpt. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed., vol. 1. Ed. P. Lauder, et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,1998. 1760-1818.

Stone, Albert E. “Identity and Art in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative”. CLA Journal 17.2 (December 1973): 192-213. Rpt. Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism. Vol. 7. Eds. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitsgerald. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. 135-137.
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