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Frederick Douglass, born into slavery, yearned for freedom from a very young age. He experienced the senselessly harsh and cruel way of life as a slave first hand before finally fulfilling his goal of escaping to freedom. His arrival into the free state of New York in 1838 is described in the short excerpt from his self written, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In the passage, Douglass recounts his experiences and varying emotions as he adjusts to life as a free man.
Douglass uses diction, figures of speech, and repetition to communicate his feelings of happiness, loneliness, and fear after escaping slavery.
Douglass incorporates specialized diction throughout the passage to convey his differing states of mind. Through utilizing diction, Douglass emphasizes the happiness and excitement he experienced after escaping the horrors of slavery. When he first arrives and is introduced to life as a free man, Douglass feels as though the “blessedness of freedom” has allowed him to experience feelings of the “highest excitement.
” Douglass, who has not yet come to realize the still present prejudices and problems associated with being a fugitive slave, is happy to have escaped. His life up until this point has been controlled solely by his masters’ and this freedom he has been awarded is accompanied by feelings of joy and relief. The diction used in the first portion of the passage is positive, indicating the happiness he feels to have escaped the turmoils of slavery.
As Douglass settles into life as a free man, his outlook transitions from happy and excited, to lonely and insecure, with the diction used in the passage changing to reflect this shift.
Douglass’s happiness towards his escape subsides as feelings of “insecurity and loneliness” begin to set in. His mental state is degraded to a “sad condition” and he is described as “perfectly helpless” and a “perfect stranger,” as if alone in “total darkness.” His loneliness is described further as he explains his “trust no man” mentality. He is left alone with no one to rely on or go to for help. These words show Douglass in a more negative, defeated light, stressing the difficulties a fugitive slave may encounter even in freedom.
The mental toll escaping had on Douglass is revealed, displaying his wariness and mistrust of those around him and emphasizing his paranoia. Lastly, diction is used to express Douglass’s fear of the unknown as he begins to come to terms with the harsh reality that comes with being a fugitive slave living as a free man. Douglass fears being captured by “money-loving,” ”merciless,” “legalized kidnappers” who will undoubtedly return him to the “wretchedness of slavery.” He emphasizes his “toil-worn” and “whip-scarred” body and fears being reintroduced and subjected to these “tortures of slavery.” The possibility of forcibly returning to slavery, haunts Douglass, causing him to be uneasy and constantly on edge despite his free state. This paranoia adds to his distrust of those around him and his overall mental suffering. Douglass’s use of diction throughout the passage allows for a greater understanding of his varying states of mind and why the change between the three is warranted.
Douglass also incorporates figures of speech, including similes, metaphors, and hyperboles into his passage to express his feelings of happiness, loneliness, and fear after escaping slavery. Through the use of these comparisons, Douglass describes his happiness and excitement towards his newfound freedom. He “felt as one may imagine the unarmed mariner to feel when he is rescued by a friendly man…from the pursuit of a pirate” and as “one who had escaped a den of hungry lions.” These similes display Douglass’s initial joyful feelings towards freedom. His escape from slavery represented by the rescue of the once hopeless mariner and the lion’s release from captivity signifies the relief and happiness that accompanies his newfound feeling of freedom. Douglass also uses these aspects of figurative language to describe his lonely and insecure state of mind after the initial excitement of his escape dies down. Since Douglass has been accustomed to and still trusts no one, he views “every white man an enemy, and in almost every colored man cause for distrust.” This hyperbole exaggerates the magnitude of those deemed untrustworthy. Everyone around him supposedly has cause to betray his trust, which could result in Douglass being detected and returned to slavery, the thing he fears most. This fear motivates him to stay isolated with the belief that it will protect him but ultimately Douglass brings loneliness upon himself.
Though the use of these comparisons, Douglass expresses his fear of others and his situation as a fugitive slave. Douglass was “afraid to speak to anyone for fear of…falling into the hands of money-loving kidnappers,…who would…wait for the panting fugitive, as the ferocious beasts of the forest lie and wait for their prey.” He fears being “subjected to the terrible liability of being seized…as the hideous crocodile seized upon its prey” and as the “wild beasts, whose greediness swallows up the helpless fish from which they subsist.” Douglass’s feelings of fear are strengthened through the use of these similes and metaphors. He compares himself to an animal that is being hunted by wild beasts, signifying those wanting to return him to slavery. By explaining the relationship he has with these predators, Douglass establishes himself as their prey who constantly, for fear of being returned to captivity, assumes their motives to be cruel.
Additionally, Douglass views himself as a “fugitive slave in a strange land- a land given up to the hunting ground for slaveholders.” This metaphor compares the land in the North, previously thought of as free from the troubles of slavery and a sanctuary for free men and fugitive slaves, to a hunting ground, indicating that no land is safe and truly free from the threat of slaveholders. This reiterates Douglass’s constant fear and paranoia of being caught and returned to slavery. Through utilizing figures of speech, including similes, metaphors, and hyperboles, Douglass is able to express his varying states of mind.
Finally, Douglass uses repetition to convey his lonely and fearful state of mind as he transitions into the harsh reality of living freely as a fugitive slave. His loneliness and insecurities are emphasized through Douglas’s view of himself and his relationship with the community around him. Douglass describes himself as “in the midst of thousands, and yet a perfect stranger” and later “in the midst of thousands of my own brethren…and yet I dared not to unfold to any one of them my sad condition.” The repetition of Douglass’s lack of companions displays the loneliness present in his life. In addition to repetition, these statements juxtapose each other. By comparing the abundance of what is available to what he is able to obtain, Douglass highlights that it is his fugitive state that keeps him from obtaining the goods necessary for survival, contributing to his problem of isolation.
Despite being surrounded by “thousands” of people, some of which can relate to his own problems regarding the hardships of slavery, Douglass still feels as though he is alone. Due to his distrust of those around him, he is not willing to open up to or form connections with anyone, further emphasizing his loneliness. Douglass is also able to convey his fearful state of mind through his use of repetition. Douglass describes himself as “without home or friends- without money or credit- wanting shelter and none to give it- wanting bread, and no money to buy it.” By repeating what he is ‘without” even in his free state, it emphasizes his inability to obtain the necessities and basic needs of life. Through utilizing repetition in his passage, Douglass is able to convey how his lack of physical belongings and mental assurance leads to his lonely and fearful states of mind.
In the excerpt from The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass is able to convey his happiness, loneliness, and fear after escaping slavery through utilizing techniques such as diction, figures of speech, and repetition. Douglass’s newly found freedom is first met with feelings of happiness and excitement relating to his escape from slavery and his subsequent independence. His happiness is short-lived, quickly being replaced with feelings of loneliness and the ever-present fear of being caught and returned to slavery. Through incorporating these techniques, he is able to further emphasize the harsh life he has to endure as a fugitive slave. Douglass, despite being physically free from the horrors of slavery, is still mentally affected by the prejudices still present in his new life. The thought of never truly losing his connection to slavery and its repercussions haunts Douglass, creating within him, a sense of constant paranoia. Douglass expresses his view that freedom does not necessarily directly relate to life long happiness and his conclusion that true happiness can only be found in a society in which slavery is abolished.
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