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Rhetorical Analysis on Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass

Reading through the excerpt Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass, one

observes that Douglas discusses at a greater length about his experiences of being a slave. Slaves

used to live in the homesteads of their masters and Douglas was no exception. He however

struggled to read and write, since many slaves at his time were never allowed to learn the

vocational skills of reading and writing. Apart from being a slave, Douglas was an African

American social reformer, an orator as well as a statesman. His contributions on the work

Learning to Read and Write, Douglas uses the elements of pathos, Kairos and tone in informing

his audience about the struggles he underwent through in the quest of his desire to know how to

read and write. He further narrates his experiences that he underwent through as a slave.

Douglas employs an emphatic tone, metaphors, contrast, specific verbs and imagery

towards informing the white American audience about the perils and misfortunes of slavery. The

audience of Douglas lived in the period of 1850s and he attempts at ensuring that he convinces

the white Americans about the essence of being humane towards their black brothers whom they

had enslaved. Douglas alludes to the intelligence of the enslaved blacks by being very

compassionate and empathic. His tone is one which showcases the blacks as being kind and also

equal human beings and as such, they should not be enslaved(Hoffman 2). Through the

persuasion and conviction that is presented forth by Douglas, the whites who were his target

audience are convinced about the intelligence of the blacks that were enslaved. Furthermore, it is
observed that Douglas undertakes a shift in his writing of the excerpt from a lamb-like

disposition towards a fierceness of a tiger. He aptly convinces the whites of the evils of slavery

through detailing the actions and habits of his mistress

A further observation of the text of Douglas reveals that it was most probable that in his

diction, he effectively illustrated the issue of slavery to both the slave masters and the slaves

themselves through using a diction that enabled the target audience perceive the issue of slavery

in a different manner. In the pathos of his passage, he observes and demonstrates the issue of

slavery through his mistress into something that the mistress herself was not. Douglas

comprehensively sets out to depict slavery as a scourge which had spread to the white Americans

and that it had in turn led them into being horrible individuals. Douglas also targets poor white

teenagers and children in his excerpt. He depicts this audience as to how they were instrumental

towards helping him in learning how to read and write in exchange for food. He equips in the

text that “Have not I as good a right to be free as you have”? Douglas points out that these words

used to agitate them and in turn they expressed a lively sympathy towards him(Burt 1-3). It can

be argued out that, by him using the children and teenagers as his target audience, he was

introspecting into the future, whereby these children would in their adulthood look down on

slavery and fight at ending it. In doing, the lives of the blacks who had been subjugated into the

conditions of slavery would be let free and live in a society which recognized that all people

were equal in the eyes of God.

There are instances in the excerpt where Douglass repeatedly uses the word abolition. In

the Kairos on his excerpt, he points out that he really wanted to understand the meaning of this

word since he had heard it being used several times. After learning and understanding what the

word meant, he thereafter uses it again and again, in a manner of trying to exaggerate or express
through this word, how his desire and dedication had been towards the need of learning how to

read and write. Douglas further looked for this word even in the dictionary and in city papers in

the quest of gaining knowledge about it. This shows how his overall rhetoric’s as an activist had

been well developed through him persistently and consistently trying to learn concepts that

touched around the issue of slavery(Marjolein Van 8). Hence, the rhetorical strategies that are

employed by him in this paper create a connection between him and his readers from the

emotions he elicits as well as the repetitions he employs in emphasizing out about the evils of

slavery in the society. This is evident through his usage of the phrase, “Give the reader what they

want” in his best abilities throughout the except.

In summary, it is evident that Douglas employs a number of means towards

communicating the issue of slavery. The little education he received, he used into his best

abilities in advocating for an end towards slavery. Douglas was able to vividly paint the anima

that was slavery through using rhetorical strategies and dictions that best captured the horridness

of slavery.
Works Cited

Burt, John. Learning to Write: The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. 2002,




Marjolein Van, Mieghem. Frederick Douglass and Rhetoric A study of antislavery

policies, Genre conventions and rhetorical devices in Frederick Douglass’s Major Slave

narratives. 2016,