Frederick Douglass

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 2 December 2016

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass once said, “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.” Frederick Douglass author and protagonist of the Narrative of Frederick Douglass was a slave that suffered over twenty years of physical abuse, deprivation, and starvation under the rusty, blood crusted chains of slavery. Frederick Douglass is a former American slave who taught himself to be a brilliant writer and orator who sparked the abolitionist movement. He writes about his former life, in which he had suffered through years of starvation, dehydration, and deprivation of the basic necessities of life. However, because of those years of suffering, Douglass was able to be one of the few slaves that revealed the ugly truth behind slavery. Douglass shows the audience through the use of literary devices that ignorance is a tool of slavery and knowledge is the path to freedom. Frederick Douglass writes using litotes, antithesis, and chiasmus to explain the use of ignorance as a fetter and the suppression of knowledge to conceal the path to freedom.

Frederick Douglass emphasizes the use of ignorance to prevent slaves from obtaining knowledge about freedom and slavery through the use of litotes. After Frederick Douglass reads through “The Colombian Orator,” he realizes the truth about ignorance, freedom, and knowledge. Douglass writes, “It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. […] The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever” (Douglass 24). Douglass realizes that freedom was within his reach and nothing could make the overwhelming urge to reach out and grab freedom disappear from the depths of his mind. Litotes are words that negate their opposite, similar to being lost in a maze. A path that can be created as a simple, straight line, is warped into a complex creation of passages that merge and intertwine with one another.

The slave-owners don’t want the slaves to realize the truth about ignorance, knowledge, and freedom. So, the slave-owners create an elaborate metaphorical maze. The maze is a barrier that prevents the slaves from exiting the world of ignorance and entering the world of freedom. Every time a slave enters the maze, they are bound to run into obstacles such as walls of ignorance and dead ends of pain which are obstacles that slave-owners create in hopes of discouraging them. Slave-owners whip, torture, and even kill slaves that enter the maze that enters the world of knowledge. Slave-owners will try to discourage slaves so that the slave retraces his steps back into the world of ignorance. However, this is not the case for Frederick Douglass; he makes it through the entire maze despite the whipping and the walls of ignorance that fetter them, and pursuit a world of knowledge rather than the world of ignorance he once lived in.

Once a slave enters the world of knowledge, the slave-owners can no longer pull them back into the world of ignorance, and the slave can freely roam between the two worlds and expand his knowledge. As they do so, the truth about knowledge, freedom, and slavery are unlocked from their cryptic chest and revealed to the slave. Douglass uses litotes to exemplify the walls that slave-owners put up in hopes of keeping their slaves ignorant of knowledge, many times succeed; however, when a slave overcomes these walls, the idea of knowledge and freedom enter their mind and the slave-owners no longer have the power to remove those ideas. Slave-owners use ignorance as a wall to prevent slaves from learning about the truth behind slavery, freedom and knowledge; however, once a slave overcomes the fetters, the slave-owner can no longer control the slave’s thoughts and actions. Once a slave enters the realm of knowledge and understands, he/she begins to mentally rebel against their slave-owners because their newly earned knowledge clashes with the cruel ideas of slavery.

Frederick Douglass shows the clash of knowledge and ignorance through the use of antithesis in the following passage. Frederick Douglass is working at a Chesapeake Bay when he apostrophizes to the multitude of ships lulling at the bay. Douglass mentally yells, “’You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly around the world; I am confined in bands of iron!’” (Douglass 38). Frederick Douglass lashes out with anger as he realizes that he was not considered a man, he was considered a slave, a slave who had less rights than the ships that surround him. Douglass uses antithesis, words that are positioned so that like ideas contradict each other, similar to two like poles of a magnet grating against each other creating a conflict, a clash.

Frederick Douglass is enraged after realizing the cruelty and prejudiced ideas of slavery that positioned him below everyday people and below inanimate objects, like the ships on Chesapeake Bay. Slavery is the South Pole of the left magnet, with ignorance as its pair, the North Pole. On the right-hand side, the South Pole is Freedom with its matching partner, knowledge as its North Pole. When ignorance and knowledge meet, the two north poles repel each other and create an invisible conflict. Slave-owners try to prevent slaves from gaining knowledge so that their knowledge won’t clash with their former ignorance causing a mental conflict against the slave-owners.

Douglass is enraged when he sees the free ships drifting on the pacifying ocean, his former ignorance about slavery conflicts with his new knowledge and creates a clash, causing his mind to lash out at the negligence of slave-owners towards slaves. His ignorance of slavery clashes with the knowledge of freedom creating a conflict, which he then overcomes to understand the reality of slavery. Frederick Douglass understands the use of ignorance as a tool to conceal the truth about freedom and slavery. Once, the mind wraps its arms around the concept of slavery, a flood of new knowledge enters the mind causing an uncontrollable mental lash that attacks the ideas of slavery.

As a slave becomes familiar with the ideas of freedom and slavery, he begins to think of ways to evade the fetters of ignorance and he becomes confident about freeing themselves from the treacheries of slavery. Douglass uses chiasmus to foreshadow his escape from ignorance in the following passage. Douglass shows how a slave’s fate can be determined if they overcome the fetters of ignorance and fully understand the ideas behind slavery and knowledge. Douglass wrtes, “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man” (Douglass 39). Douglass overcomes the chains of ignorance and sees through the thin façade of lies the slave-owners create and creates his own path to freedom, using knowledge. Chiasmus is like a series circuit with four light bulbs that is powered by a single battery. Douglass starts out in a life of slavery, because of that he lived in a life of ignorance. The two light bulbs on the very right are now lit.

Normally, the first battery would power the rest of the bulbs after lighting the first one; however, slave-owners create a large curtain/wall of ignorance that prevents slaves from gaining knowledge and ultimately freedom. Slave-owners will beat, whip, and starve their slaves in order to keep the two light bulbs on the very right lit. However, for slaves like Frederick Douglass, they find ways to suppress the circuit disruptor and light the third light bulb, knowledge. Slave-owners set up another wall in hopes of delaying the lighting of the final light bulb freedom. By the time slaves light the third light bulb, they begin to rebel both mentally and physically against their slave-owners. Slave-owners will stop at no means to prevent the lighting of the final bulb, even if it means killing the slave.

However, if the slave is reserved and cautious, they can skirt around the final façade and light the final bulb of freedom. However, if the slave does not remain cautious after lighting the final bulb, they may be sent back to the first two bulbs with the remaining bulbs of knowledge and freedom extinguished, creating an endless circle in which the slave is trapped in. Douglass uses chiasmus to emphasize how avoiding being sent back to bulb one allows the slave to regain their rights of freedom. Douglass shows how constant perseverance through the circuit can ultimately result to freedom or back to slavery.

Through the use of chiasmus he exemplifies how the constant repetition or cycle of slavery, freedom, ignorance, and knowledge can be overcome if the slave can pass through the two fetters and keep the final bulb lit without extinguishing it. Slave-owners use the walls of ignorance to separate freedom and knowledge from slavery and ignorance. A vast majority of slaves are chained behind the wall of slavery and ignorance; however, a few brave slaves like Frederick Douglass overcome that wall and enter the realm of freedom and knowledge. Through the use of chiasmus, Douglass shows how the endless circuit can be overcome if the walls of ignorance are removed and the lights of knowledge and freedom remain lit.

Frederick Douglass shows the audience how slave-owners use ignorance as a tool to conceal the truth behind slavery and knowledge to prevent slaves from creating a path of freedom through the use of litotes, antithesis, and chiasmus. Douglass suffered a terrible burden while he was a slave; he wrote this novel in hopes of persuading more people into supporting the abolition of slavery. Frederick Douglass used these three literary devices to create situations that create a parallel situation with the subjects of knowledge and ignorance, freedom and slavery. Douglass uses litotes to explain the use of ignorance as a maze to prevent slave from reaching knowledge, he uses antithesis to explain the clash between knowledge and ignorance, and he uses chiasmus to explain how the endless cycle must be ended for a slave to be free.

Douglass is a former slaver, an impassioned abolitionist, a brilliant writer, a newspaper editor, and an eloquent orator who greatly influenced the abolitionist movement. Through this book, he hopes to reach the souls of his audience and make them understand the true values of his life which circled around slavery, ignorance, freedom, and knowledge. All of Frederick Douglass’s slave owners had prevented slaves from learning how to read and write, the slave owners wanted to keep them ignorant of knowledge; however, Frederick Douglass obtained knowledge and because he obtained that knowledge, he was able to see through the façade the slave owners had created and see the path to freedom. Douglass, an extremely influential man is one of the few men in life who have been able to thoroughly understand the use of ignorance as a tool to keep slavery intact and find ways to evade these fetters. “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason,” (Douglass 58).


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 December 2016

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