In an excerpt from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1854), a former slave recounts the triumphal yet depressing story of the meaning of freedom. He exemplifies the trials he faced as he escaped from slavery, made it to a free state, and the unfortunate circumstances he faced in while being “free.” Douglass’s main principle was to disclose that freedom is not all that it appears to be, especially to those who take freedom for granted in the first place. He wrote with tones of ecstasy and caution to an audience of Caucasian males living north of the Mason Dixon Line who (at the time) did not understand the troubles that a slave, free or not, could face.
The author’s diction helps the words leap off the page and into the readers’ boggled minds as well as the hearts of the student. “Life” and “freedom” was the only hope that drove many “slave[s]” into pursuing a better life for themselves. Life is a basic unalienable right that many people tend to take for granted, especially for those who were born into a life of ease. Being physically forced to do something is a horrible occurrence that had no place in this great nation. To live “without” something of necessity and be “helpless” to the point of “trembling” is a tragedy that many Americans had to face in the past. Having no one to rely on for basic needs is one of the main reasons fugitives got recaptured. When someone is scared for their life may involuntary reactions take place to fill the fear inside of the readers’ head. All reader can recognize the unrelenting struggle most fugitives face north of the Mason Dixon Line.
The author’s imagery creates a visual stimulation in one’s mind of an overworked slave that has recently gained freedom by running away. To “damp the ardor of [his]enthusiasm” was caused by countless factors of being a fugitive slave, such as being in the midst of plenty, yet suffering the terrible gnawing’s of anger.” When someone gets hungry, they go look for good, but to see food in a refrigerator and not be able to touch it, is a tease on the human senses. Typically, eating food causes us to be happier, especially after a substantial period of time with no food. In the “midst of thousands” of people a friend would be a necessity, but a fugitive slave “without [a] home and without friends” somehow seemed to manage. The majority of towns around this area have a population of at least one thousand and at Times Square in New York thousands pass through it every day. For someone to be homeless without knowing anyone in the area is a hard price to pay for freedom. Douglass represents the rising cost of freedom and the misery you can face when trying to achieve it.
The author’s detail enhances the standoff between the price of freedom and freedom itself. “On the third day of September, 1838” Frederick Douglass “found [himself] in a free State.” Douglass had the rare opportunity to teach himself to read, that doesn’t know the date of his birth, knowing the date he gained freedom shows the importance of it. A free state was any of the states north of the Mason Dixon Line. Soon the enthusiasm wore off and he was “seized with a feeling of great insecurity and loneliness,” but was “afraid to speak to anyone” and risk someone capturing him. At first, Douglass was filled with ecstasy when realizing he was a free man, but the money-loving kidnappers frightened him. With the scars reminding him of how wretched slavery was, the thought of being forced back was enough to keep him quiet. As he accomplishes his goal in life as well as his dream, he his overcome with despair when he realizes freedom is not all that it’s cracked up to be.
The author uses figurative language to show us the horrible and cruel things slaves face. For Douglass “it was life and death” when it came to freedom, yet he had the power to “[leave his] chains.” Freedom is a personal right that all people should have. Numerous pains and trails came along with the imprisonment of slavery. For him escaping his slave owner was as accomplishing as “[escaping] a den of hungry lions,” yet he was still surrounded by the “hands of money-loving kidnappers.” The terrifying force that lions can have demonstrates the painful trials Douglass faced. Kidnapping is illegal most of the time, but when it came to the times of slavery, it was somehow okay for fugitive slaves to be captured and brought back to their owner for a cash reward. Figurative language allows the reader to get the full experience of the life of Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave.
The syntax moves from fact driven sentences to a periodic sentence structure to short unfinished thoughts. In the beginning Douglass opens the paragraph with an inverted sentence followed by a short sentence and two long fact filled lines. Douglass defines himself while trying to catch the attention of readers. In the last few sentences of the beginning he answers questions that the reader could have been wandering so as to cease any previous trains of thought. In the middle, Douglas continues with many uses of figurative language followed by a few sentences of parataxis. He goes through the feelings that first influenced him, trailed by the unforeseen reality that was immediately surrounding him. Many times Douglass compares the slave holders as well as the kidnappers to “ferocious beasts, “signifying how terrible and vicious they were. In the end, Douglass uses countless short phrases followed by hyphens to leave the reader out of breathe and devastated. He takes advantage of the readers breathing cycle by using few periods to signify the constant running many fugitives’ slaves faced. Continuing on Douglass used plenty of verbs to provide more energy to the act of survival. Altogether, Douglass tugs on the heart strings of the reader to reach the interest needed.
In this brief excerpt Douglass was able to practice diction in a way that startles the reader by grasping their attention from the very first sentence all the way to the end when he comes to a startling realization that life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is not as perfect as first thought. The imagery and details used elaborate on the scenery and way of life from many fugitives at the time. Figurative language as well as syntax is thrown into this beautiful piece of work with great precision and in such a way to control the emotions of the reader.