Rhetorical Analysis of Frederick Douglass's "How I Learned to Read and Write"

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Rhetorical Analysis of Douglass

In the excerpt “Learning to Read and Write”, Frederick Douglass talks about his experiences in slavery living in his masters house and his struggle to learn how to read and write. Frederick Douglass was an African American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman. Some of his other writings include “The Heroic Slave”, “My Bondage and My Freedom”, and “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”. In this excerpt, Frederick Douglass uses an empathic tone, imagery, certain verb choice, contrast, and metaphors to inform African Americans of how important it is to learn to read and write and also to inform a white American audience of the evils of slavery. I find Frederick Douglass to be relatively persuasive in his argument to his intended audiences. We know that one of his intended audiences is African Americans because he consistently states things such as “I was compelled to resort to various stratagems” and “Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write”. These sentences show us how difficult it was for him and states how he had to go through many trials to finally learn to be literately correct. By not giving up, he shows us how important he thinks it is for slaves to learn how to read and write. We also know that his other audience were white Americans because of his use of contrast. He describes how his mistress changed from being a nice, helpful, and loving woman to being a mean, evil spirited brute because of the simple fact of being a slave holder and her husband’s characteristics rubbing off on her. By stating “Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities” he shows us how much of a negative effect slavery can be not only on African Americans, but also on white Americans. Frederick Douglass most likely chose this audience because many slaves probably did not know the extent of how important it was to read and write,

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