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The Role of Language in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is the autobiographic work, which reveals details of the life of Frederick Douglass, the former slave, and numerous injustices he, as an African American and former slave, has faced in the course of his life. In this regard, the author used the language to reveal the diversity of his experience and his life. The language of the book is very important because it reveals the essence of the lifestyle of F. Douglass. At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the language is the manifestation of the life experience of Douglass, the quintessence of his life and civil rights activism.

On analyzing the language of the book, it is important to dwell upon key artistic details and stylistic devices, which help to understand the diversity of the language and the life of the narrator. F. Douglass uses metaphor to convey the true life of slaves and slave owners. For instance, slaves are compared to “property”. In such a way, the author emphasizes the position of slaves in American society the lack of human rights and liberties for them. At the same time, F. Douglass uses simile to show that slaves and African Americans are ordinary people. Douglass writes: “slaves are like other people”. The simile is used for comparison and emphasizes the similarity of slaves to other people in order to show that they should have equal rights and liberties like other people do. In addition, the author uses personification to depict masters and their attitude to slaves. The masters of Douglass are associated with the evil. In such a way, the author stresses the negative implications of slavery and reveals the slaveholders’ evil nature.

On the other hand, the author attempts to show the oppressed position of slaves. For this purpose, he uses onomatopia, which is used to compare the position of slaves to that of animals and using onomatopia Douglass tends to compare slaves to sheep.

To show the absurd of slavery, Douglass uses oxymoron: “I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness” (p.21) happiness and slavery comprise the oxymoron since these two notions are absolutely antagonistic and the author is sarcastic about the happiness of slaves. The author attempts to show that happiness of people is impossible as long as slavery persists and the abolition of slavery is the only way of to improve the life of African Americans and to make them happy.

At the same time, Douglass uses irony to show the true life of people. In fact, the author repeatedly uses irony when he refers to concepts of happiness of slaves or the possibility of the “normal” life of slaves, while Douglass believes that slavery should be abolished. Douglass attempted to show the real life of people in slavery.

In addition, Douglass uses hyperbole to manifest the desperate position of slaves whose life is unbearable and worse than that of animals. The hyperbole enhances the irony to reveal the full extent to which the life of slaves was terrible and unbearable in the US. Hyperboles make the narrative highly emotional and have a significant impact on readers.

Furthermore, Douglass refers to universal values and, for this purpose, he uses allusions. To put it more precisely, the author refers to biblical motives to appeal to Christian values of the audience. In such a way, he helps readers to understand that slaves should be liberated because slavery contradicts to basic, fundamental Christian principles. He reminds the audience about the humanistic values, which they should not abandon. To enhance the impact of allusion on the audience, the author uses rhetorical questions are used to make the audience think of the necessity to abolish slavery since the audience has no options but to answer positively to the question concerning the abolition of slavery.

At the same time, the author uses anaphora/parallelism: “He was just the man for such a place, and it was just the place for such a man. He was ambitious enough to be contented with nothing short of the highest rank of overseers, and persevering enough to reach the height of his ambition. He was cruel enough to inflict the severest punishment, artful enough to descend to the lowest trickery, and obdurate enough to be insensible to the voice of a reproving conscience. He was, of all the overseers, the most dreaded by the slaves” (p.41). The author uses anaphora to characterize the master and show that all the bad qualities are typical for him and constitute a part of his nature.

Douglass uses repetition to show the state in which the American and slaves lived at the epoch described by Douglass. Euphemism is used when Douglass refers to slavery as a social problem that Americans apparently decreased in its significance and simply underestimated.

Moreover, the author uses paradox: “I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger” (p.11). The author speaks about the death of his mother as a stranger that is unnatural to modern readers and white at the epoch of slavery. Antithesis is used when the author contrasts his view on the life of slaves as miserable to the view of whites who speak about happiness of slaves.

Furthermore, Douglass uses metonymy: “The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife; and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers” (p.46). Masters are compared to flesh-mongers to demonstrate their evil nature. Finally, Douglass uses synecdoche to show that masters are only representatives of a part of the American society who back up slavery.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that F. Douglass uses the language to convey the true story of his life and to convey the essence of slavery and the life of slaves in the American society. As the matter of fact, the author uses the full potential and diversity of language to convey his views on slavery and to stress the importance of its abolition. In this regard, the language helps Douglass to persuade the audience and to reach his goals.


Works cited:

Douglass, F. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.