Power of Persuasion in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

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Power of Persuasion in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

In order to convince, one must fist charm the inner feelings of the audience. In Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he appeals to the interest of the reader through his first hand accounts of slavery, his use of irony in these descriptions, and his balance between evasiveness and frankness.

Douglass's descriptions of the severity of slave life are filled with horrific details able to reach even the coldest hearts. The beginning of the narrative tells of how Douglass lacks one of the most celebrated identities of humans - the knowledge of ones own age. "I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant." (12) In saying this Douglass is showing how low the life of a slave is compared to other humans. The idea of slaves being seen as merely work animals is placed into the minds of the reader to set an idea for the rest of the book.

Douglass also gives accounts of the horrific treatment of slaves by the plantation owner. "He (Master) would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at dawn by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood."(14) He mentions the tangible blood and shrieks to emphasize the pain and torture of a human being. This slave bleeds like any other person and so it is easier for a reader ...

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...ed when I first met her at the door, -- a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings."(28) Douglass even admits that it is rare to find a slave holder who is completely bad. "Bad as all slaveholders are, we seldom meet one destitute of every element of character commanding respect."(39)

In using descriptions of slave life, ironic situations, and general frankness, Douglass is appealing to the emotions of his audience. Douglass is letting people know of the terrors of slavery by touching their emotions. He gets them motivated by being interesting and then builds upon this by describing his life in simple terms that all humans can relate to.

Work cited:

All references are to Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997).
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