Martin Luther King once said, “Freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Through the evolution of mankind a common trait of humans is to oppress one another for their own benefit. From slavery in the 1800’s to women’s rights in the in the 1920’s to present day racism, oppression is still an issue in our society. Fortunately, our nation has lowered the severity that surrounds the topic of oppression. None the less, it is important to learn from individuals like Frederick Douglass who gets to share his story. In The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave,Frederick Douglass uses rhetoric to confute the pro-slavery topics of religion and scientific arguments.
Frederick Douglass disclaims the religious pro-slavery topic numerous times throughout his novel. In the pro slavery piece Stringfellow states, “Because Christ never disclaims it he must be in favor of it.” Douglas disproves this statement when he describes the irony of southerners practicing religion, “The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation”(100). Douglass uses diction and ethos to get his point across to the reader about how the corrupt the south was. By using his comparison of his master during the week to him on Sunday mornings shows the reader both sides of the spectrum. His use of ethos help relay his message of how southerners used religion to make them feel as if their actions were accepted and approved by God. Earlier in the book Douglass shares how cruel the masters could be, “ I have seen him tie up a lame woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed he would quote this passage of scripture”(57). Douglass is trying to convey how the masters action shift from such a cruel and vicious mindset to acting holy and happy on Sundays. Douglass uses an immense amount of pathos to make the reader sympathizes for the woman being whipped. With his strong use of imagery, describing the blood running down her shoulders and ending the story with how the master thinks he is doing what God would want,drives home his point that master’s find sanction for their actions through religion.
Frederick Douglass refutes the scientific argument of slavery frequently throughout his narrative. Douglass reels in the reader as he explains one of the happiest moments of his life, “The work of instructing my fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was blessed”(75). With the help of pathos Douglass shows the reader how the littlest thing meant the most to them. To refute that blacks are not inferior to whites Douglass uses ethos as he describes how the slaves are expected to act on Christmas, “They had much rather see us engaged in those degrading sports, than to see us behaving like intellectual, moral and accountable beings”(75). By Douglass giving his first hand perspective of the situation it adds to the credibility of his argument. This statement helped prove that the masters never wanted to take the chance of giving the slaves an education because they could become a threat to them. Douglass had a way of fitting such large topics and points into only a sentence which helped make him such a powerful writer.
Frederick Douglass is a very open writer, a respectable trait in both a an individual and a writer. With his strong use of rhetoric and imagery he paints a vivid picture of the cruelties of slavery. Throughout his narrative Frederick Douglass uses his persuasive writing skills to refute both the religion and scientific pro-slavery topics.