Analysis Of Frederick Douglass Learning To Read

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Frederick Douglass’s Learning to Read
In his essay Learning to Read, author Frederick Douglass offers a seemingly grim outlook on the power of language in the context of nineteenth-century slavery. On first glance, Douglass 's struggle and subsequent suffering brought on by acquiring literacy seem to indicate futility, however, Douglass masterfully uses this newly acquired skill to introduce antislavery rhetoric without compromising the audience 's receptivity. His arrangement provides a high-stakes example of language’s unique ability to shelter and spread powerful yet potentially controversial ideas. Douglass uses linguistic elements such as vivid diction, narrative genre and metaphor to create an appeal to pathos that prevents his subtle
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Although Douglass blames his misery on learning to read, it is clear all slaves exist in this condition of suffering but are unable to observe or express this idea. Douglass describes the discontent that would "torment and sting [him] to unutterable anguish" that manifested after he learned to read (230). The word "torment" connotes severe abuse and suffering, and when coupled with "sting," seemingly alludes to a swarm of attacking insects, hounding after an innocent victim. Learning to read did not cause his discontent, but made him aware to it. The institution of slavery was “stinging” Douglass and the thousands of slaves with whom he shared his fate. He was unable to recognize the source of these stings until he read The Columbian Orator, which “enabled [him] to utter [his] thoughts” (229). Until this point, the metaphorical insects were intangible, and although Douglass could feel the pain, he was unable to describe the cause of his hardship. In the same way, Douglass’s contrarian ideas are hidden in his writing; a bias against slavery exists but is difficult to pinpoint at first glance. Ironically, as he vividly describes the pain he lived through on a daily basis, Douglass claims the anguish he endures is “unutterable” (230). This word choice serves to remind the reader that the evils of slavery are unspeakable, …show more content…
He wants the reader to understand that slaves are innately human but were "reduced...to slavery" (230). His word choice clearly illustrates that slaves were not always in this oppressed state. On a fundamental level, in order for an object to be reduced, it must first be large. Douglass uses word choice to subtly promote the idea that slaves are not deserving of the jail sentence of slavery. He furthers the idea that slaves are people, not just property by describing how his mistress treats him "as though [he were] a brute" (228). Through his word choice, Douglass emphasizes the false and artificial nature of this course of treatment. The reader can clearly witness how slavery acts as an agent of degradation that unjustly pushes enslaved populations to the bottom rung of the social ladder. Douglass demonstrates how slavery degrades individuals to the status of animals while simultaneously illustrating that these same individuals are capable of great things, such as writing literary works. The metaphors allows the reader to almost effortlessly conclude that slaves are people as well and treating them as animals is unjust. Douglass is able to illuminate this injustice to the reader only because of language, demonstrating the tremendous power of the

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