Ap Language & English Composition Summer Assignment
1. The dehumanizing effects of slavery.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is an autobiographical account about the author’s unpleasant and harrowing experiences as a former slave. Credited as one of the best narratives of its time, the book narrates in brutal honesty, the excruciating and agonizing events that took place in his early life as a slave. As slavery and the banning of it was closely tied to American history, the work is considered as a prominent and persuasive piece of literature that stoked up the movement for abolishing slave trade in the United States of America.
“I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew anything about it”
These few words which appear in the first chapter of the narrative, Douglass explain how his master had separated him from his mother as soon as he was born. Douglas surmises the cause of this separation as a way to estrange a child with its mother. By removing an infant from its mother, Douglass points out the darkest shades of human selfishness and how inhuman a person could be.
The extreme pain and anguish of the author is expressed in the words above as he is uncertain who is more uncompassionate. The reason why he is sceptic about the morality of the slave is because he doubts how far an individual who is alienated from his family, especially his mother from birth could have normal feelings and compassion as others.
"The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them...To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery."
Douglass discloses how the slave songs influenced him during his childhood. The songs of the slaves were often heard while they were working in the fields and he always found these songs disturbingly alluring. He could never neglect the pain and sorrow of these songs and never could understand them completely.
He associates listening to these songs made him realize how dehumanizing slavery could ever be. Though it was an expression of the pain and angst of the slaves, the owners would consider these songs as something which the slaves sang when they were happy. Douglass could never fathom this insensitive and callous selfishness of humans. He would carry the pain and anger he had of slavery and would associate these songs to the torture and hardships of slavery.
“There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination.”
This is another passage which describes the extreme indignation and contempt that Douglass had towards slavery. The passage explains an instance where Douglass had to bear witness to his fellow brethren being inspected during ‘valuation’ a process in which it was decided whom the slave would be owned to. He uses very sharp words like ‘brutalizing’ to describe the harrowing experience where humans; man and women alike, were treated like animals and were being marked for valuation just like commodities. This was one of the periods when the slaves had to undergo the worst turmoil of their lives, as slave owners would strip them off the friends or relatives, just by a nod of their head.
“That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon”
In chapter six, Douglass explains his experiences of living with Mrs. Sophia Auld, who had become his new slave owner. He was astonished at first to see how different Mrs. Auld was from the other slave owners. She was kind hearted and never had the grim rigidity of a slave owner. She was even kind enough to teach him alphabets, without the knowledge of her husband.
But Douglass reasoning about Mrs. Auld changes as there is a change in her attitude, which he believes was brought about by the disparity of slavery. He puts forward the irresponsible power that slavery had given, changed the behaviour of his owner Mrs. Auld. He laments over the fact that the lack of respect and tenderness towards slaves would turn even the most cultured and matured persons to change themselves into unreasonable human beings.
A rhetoric strategy is a method by which a writer tries to persuade his readers to a particular opinion. The opinion would be established by use of sentences or words that consolidates a rational argument. A rhetorical argument can be established by an author by use of strong words that connect to the reader and makes him associate with the view points of the writer. It is a crafty method adopted by writers to establish a point of view and align the readers thought to the same.
Douglass biography reveals his ability to express with words his strong contempt and opinions against slavery that existed in America before the Emancipation Proclamation. The main rhetorical devices that Douglass illustrates in his narrative are ethos, pathos, irony and anecdotes. Different strategies to garner evidence about a concept is used, such as slavery in this context and makes a logical sequence helping the reader connect to the authors thought process and associate with the arguments that he puts forth. The three main rhetorical devices that Douglass puts forth in his biography that has influenced the readers has been discussed below:
Ethos is a rhetorical device which convinces the reader of the integrity and authority of the writer to validly discuss about a topic of his choice. The narrative by Douglas is laced with a lot of anecdotal references of his own experiences that he had to face with at the hands of his slave owners. The author has made a few startling revelations about the brutality of slavery and how he experienced and witnessed a lot of incidents from his childhood. Having lived the life of a slave himself, Douglas exhibits no restraint in admitting the derogatory experiences he had to undergo all his life. The readers could connect to his narrative, as all the experiences that have been explained has either been undergone by himself or someone close to him. As soon as the narrative begins, the personal accounts touch a chord in the readers mind and create a sense of trust that the writer has some honest and grim experiences to share with them
Pathos is one of the strongest rhetorical devices and could be used by an author to provoke strong emotional responses from the reader. Pathos if used effectively can be a persuasive factor for the writer as emotional responses tend to remain at the minds of the reader for a long time. The author can create an emotional bonding with his readers in a narrative if personal accounts or experiences can be depicted in a manner in which the readers can associate themselves with.
“if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.”
This is one of the instances where Douglas shares his experience as a kid at the house of one his owners, Mr. Auld. He depicts the view of his master Mr. Auld when he learnt that his wife was teaching young Douglas the alphabets. He was sceptical about the whole thing and restrains his wife from doing so. The reasoning behind his thought was that a slave would become uncontrollable if he had more intelligence and ability. The words have been used with great care and portray the anguish of a young child who has been refused a basic privilege like education.
Irony is another rhetorical device that has been used by Douglas to convey humorously the inconsistencies in the behaviour of the slave owners. Irony could be an effective device in rhetoric to transfer the real truth by words which may mean something differently literally. Douglas transmits the outrage he had towards the slave owners by masking his words with irony at different instances in the narrative. For example, in chapter 3, Douglas quotes an instance were Colonel Lloyd takes care utmost of his horses.
He sarcastically suggests that Colonel Lloyd took care of his horses with much more care than of his human slaves. He found it contradictory that Barney, who was in charge of the horse, was punished many times for not caring for his horses. He pokes fun at the whole concept of slavery, where the greed and self indulgence of the slave owners over powered the empathy and pity towards the slaves who lived in worse conditions than animals.
In conclusion, it could be inferred from the narrative that Douglass was deeply enraged by his own experiences of slavery and wanted to bring to light the bitter experiences he had to suffer from his childhood.
In the opening chapter Postman tries to persuade the reader with his opinions as to how the American way of thinking has changed drastically. He believes that the exposure to broadcasting mediums has changed the way journalism had been viewed, accepted and acknowledged. His notions are mainly against the influence of Television and the impact it has on the American public. The power of a visual medium is that it could be more oriented towards the physical aspects of anything, which according to him is just peripheral and very trivial. He especially points out the obsession of televised journalism to take the focus on the looks and physical characteristics of even Politicians. He delicately suggests that a visual media such as Television could not be taken seriously due to its overt emphasis on entertainment and advertising. He expresses his concern of the shift in significance of knowledge attainment through reading to something like Television which gives too much importance to ocular perception.
Postman does not refuse to accept the influence of the visual media in reporting. He has strong convictions about the type of information that a particular medium should carry. He states that the actual emphasis should be n the information passed by the medium than the medium itself. He draws a clear distinction between the type of content that gets generated due to the type of medium and the actual content that gets delivered.
The main point of discussion by Postman in the second chapter is about the migration of the people’s interest from newspapers to television. Postman strongly opposes this transition and states that the intelligence of the people has dwindled. He sarcastically puts forth facts to reinstate that the conversations has changed from being sensible and relevant earlier to ludicrous and unreasonable nowadays. As an example of the impact a medium can have on culture, he gives an example about an African tribe whose fundamentals were based on an oral culture. Following an oral culture means the main form of communication and conduct depended through speech. Being heavily dependent on an oral culture reflected in every wake of their life even at the way they carried out punishments by their judicial system. The main way of punishing for this pride was by means of proverbs that decided their code of conduct. The punishment a criminal could get would thus depend upon the proverb the judge could remember at that particular time.
Postman points out that the usage of proverbs in an American court scenario would be hilarious. As there are more efficient modes of documenting present in American culture, the collection of evidence its analysis and administering judgment would follow an entirely different method. This makes Postman reckon that media is one platform where our knowledge could be extended to distinguish between information and opinion. Postman’s major concern throughout is the dwindling of a reading culture which he thinks has been caused due to the influence of television. Many of his statements give an opinion that knowledge can never be gained through a visual medium such as television. Knowledge can be gained by different means and the methods of acquiring it could be boundless. These thoughts were proved to be inaccurate in many ways and would be proved that any medium be it visual or typographical could be used to garner more knowledge in a more sophisticated manner.
“the only communication event that could produce such collective attention in today's America is the Superbowl.”
In this chapter, Postman holds a very high regard of America during the seventeenth century. As from his previous opinions, it is clear of his affinity towards the literary gains that could be garnered by reading. He emphasizes that America in those days were far better and idealistic in terms of its literary gains. It could be noted that though he has taken pride in the literacy rate of the Americans, he has conveniently sidelined the hardships and neglect of studies by the slaves and the indigenous native tribes. In the quote Postman sarcastically suggests the difference in interests of the people in both the eras. While Thomas Paines ‘Common Sense’ was a book that was considered to be an instant hit among the Americans of the past, another thing that could garner peoples interest in such proportions could only be the American Super Bowl due to the emphasis on advertising and getting lost in the visual media culture.
“When Dickens visited America in 1842, his reception equaled the adulation we offer today to television stars, quarterbacks, and Michael Jackson.”
“the potential of the telegraph to transform information into a commodity might never have been realized, except for the partnership between the telegraph and the press”
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