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“Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass: Rhetorical Methods and Techniques

Introduction

Literary works are a unique form that allows the reader to fully convey the palette of emotions, experiences, and properties that the writer sought to put in the texts. For this purpose, authors tend to use various artistic techniques to capture and transform the audience’s attention, but most importantly, it is a variety of rhetorical techniques. In particular, the philological analysis of Frederick Douglass’ short story “Learning to Read and Write” makes it possible to highlight a whole range of techniques and methods that the author used to improve the construction of artistic speech and achieve eloquence. This essay aims to discuss the rhetorical methods and techniques that are used in this story.

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Ethos, Pathos and Logos

The writer’s main task is to attract the readers’ attention and make them believe in what the author writes. The Aristotelian triangle of embedded information is realized through three rhetorical forms, such as Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. In particular, each of these forms is also discovered when studying the Douglass’s short story. The first lines of the text tell the story of what the author “…was born a slave. <…> became a leader in abolitionist movement” (Douglass, 2020, p.100). What the reader is confronted with in the beginning is the Ethos, which demonstrates the unique competencies that allow making sure that Douglass has a certain weight in the issue of slavery. With the Logos, the writer gives the reader the impression of slave owners who have ownership of the story character. This can be described as: “I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches <…> they gave tongue to interesting thoughts <…> the more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers” (Douglass, 2020, p.102). Consistent reasoning gives the text a persuasion with which the reader can be sure that the slave owners are bad people. Reading the following paragraphs leads to the final form, Pathos, which is expressed as an emotional context that calls for pity and empathy. Douglass skillfully uses words when he writes “I often found myself regretting my own existence and wishing myself dead” (Douglass, 2020, p.103). This firmly provides the author to convey the metaphysical atmosphere that structures the despair and hopelessness of the boy’s situation.

Seven Rhetorical Techniques

The “Learning to Read and Write” is rich in techniques that form the eloquence and folding of text. It is worth starting with the fact that Douglass resorts to the use of conditional tilts when writing about a boy’s desire to read under the current ban “If I was in a separate room… I was sure to be suspected of having a book” (Douglass, 2020, p.101). Such a method enables the author to show the reality on the alternative side in case the reader has a double impression: on the one hand, the boy reads at the first opportunity, and on the other – trying not to get caught. This long and complicated sentence consists of 33 words, which is a complex construction for perception. However, two short sentences of six words each immediately follow, which demonstrates the determination and firmness of conviction, and then – again a long one, already 27 words. It is essential to understand that the length of sentences is an important rhetorical construct that makes it possible to evaluate texts (“45+ literary devices,” n.d.). It turns out that by combining verbal schemes with different lengths of sentences, the author manages to capture the reader’s attention and interrupt the monotony of the narrative.

In addition, Frederick Douglass tends to combine emotional shades and tones that the author puts into sentences. While some sentences like “the mistress was a kind and tender-hearted” inspired warm feelings, others “the tender heart became stone, and <…> tiger-like fierceness” showed fear and dislike (Douglass, 2020, p.101). In addition, it is interesting to point out that behind the tone lies the apparent conflict, the contrast that Douglass used: in five small sentences, the woman’s character has changed to the opposite. Other rhetorical techniques used in the short story include metaphor, personification, proverbs, and analogies (“45+ literary devices,” n.d.). First of all, it should be said that the sixth paragraph of the story is incredibly rich in various techniques and methods that create the form of an extraordinary and exciting fragment of history. When a boy discusses the extent of his frustration with slavery, he says “It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder,” which is a metaphor (Douglass, 2020, p.103). After a few sentences, Douglass personifies the surrounding character of the object, saying that they are “pressed upon” (Douglass, 2020, p.103). If one looks back at the previous paragraphs, one can notice visible elements of analogy when a boy discusses the priorities of knowledge “This bread I used to bestow upon the… urchins, who, would give me… bread of knowledge” (Douglass, 2020, p.102). This bread I used to bestow upon the… urchins, who, who, would give me… bread of knowledge” (Douglass, 2020, p.102). The writer used an elegant trick, transforming the well-known proverb “give him an inch and he will take an ell” in case it would fit the conditions of the story “Mistress had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell” (Douglass, 2020, p.101). This underlines the degree of detail in the story and the responsibility with which the author has approached writing.

Conclusion

It should be noted that, as a rule, the reader does not find all skillfully hidden rhetorical constructions, but with the help of their author manages to achieve perfection of literary work. The “Learning to Read and Write” is no exception, and the conducted philological analysis showed that there are seven artistic techniques at once, along with Aristotelian methods of persuasion. As a result, Frederick Douglass has placed a range of valuable technologies and techniques, characterizing the work as quality work, into a small work.

References

45+ literary devices and terms that everyone should know. (n.d.). reedsyblog.

Douglass, F. (2020). Learning to read and write. In S. Cohen (Ed.), 50 essays: A portable anthology (6th ed.). (pp. 100-106). Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, April 18). “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass: Rhetorical Methods and Techniques. https://studycorgi.com/learning-to-read-and-write-by-frederick-douglass-analysis-essay/

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StudyCorgi. "“Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass: Rhetorical Methods and Techniques." April 18, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/learning-to-read-and-write-by-frederick-douglass-analysis-essay/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "“Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass: Rhetorical Methods and Techniques." April 18, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/learning-to-read-and-write-by-frederick-douglass-analysis-essay/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) '“Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass: Rhetorical Methods and Techniques'. 18 April.

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