Language for Freedom in Frederick Douglass

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Tatjana Wimmer Professor Stanley English 2308 November 4th 2013 Language for Freedom Frederick Douglass once said in an address “[o]nce you learn to read, you will be forever free” and his most notable piece “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” is a vital example of the power of language. Douglass processes his controversial story of slavery and illustrates his path to freedom through a new breadth of knowledge. Douglass uses rhetorical forms to illustrate his journey as a slave but also ultimately discovers the need to use language as a means to fight his enslavement that prevents a realization of expression and identity. Douglass as the passive observer is best portrayed in the first six chapters of the narrative. This is best highlighted rhetorically by Douglass’s inability to articulate any details about his state and identity. This is primarily due to the harsh conditions of slavery; Douglass narrates, “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” (946). Douglass’s lack of characterization is in part due to a lack of knowledge present, which is a result of a slave’s continual oppression; however, I would argue that Douglass’s lack of self stems from the inadequacy of language to express the truth of his brutal history and present situation. Douglass uses many means to highlight this inadequacy: he never quotes himself, he never speaks metaphorically or symbolically and there is an absence of Douglass interacting with other characters in his story – he merely offers a type of individual commentary. This is further illustrated by Douglass’s constant use of vision throughout the
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