Frederick Douglass was born in Maryland in 1818 as a slave to a maritime captain, Captain Anthony. After decades of enslavement, Frederick Douglass escaped to the North and became one of the prominent members and drivers of the abolitionist movement. In an effort to provide an eye-opening account of the harsh treatment of slaves, Douglass wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass detailed his life beginning from his meager early years through his escape to the North. In writing his autobiography, Douglass utilized a variety of techniques including the use of the three rhetorical strategies: Ethos, Pathos and Logos to create a powerful and influential argument against the institution of slavery in America.
Pathos is a form of persuasion that manipulates the feelings of the reader by deliberately creating content to evoke an emotional response. Frequently, Frederick utilized pathos to depict to his readers that slavery is morally wrong. Beginning in the first chapter, Douglass appealed to his reader’s morality by recounting the common abusive slaveholding practice of separating children from their mothers at an early age. Of this practice Douglass writes:
“For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. (Douglass 16)
Drawing a disturbing parallel to the treatment of animals, Douglass highlighted the treatment of enslaved children who were separated from their parents to avoid attachments, but he does not stop with this example. Only a few pages later, Douglass detailed the brutal beating of a slave that occurred during his childhood, describing the events as the “blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.” (Douglass 18) Douglass continued to describe a myriad of examples of the barbaric practices of the slave holders. For Douglass, the most memorable and emotion-provoking incident was the treatment of his grandmother. When she became too old to work, she, after a lifetime of faithful service to the family, was left helpless and alone in a shack in the woods to fend for herself. “They took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a little mud-chimney, and then made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die!” (Douglass 51) Throughout his narrative, Douglass applied he rhetorical strategy of Pathos repeatedly and to great effect to promote and validate his view that slavery is morally wrong.
Employing the rhetorical device of Ethos, which is the establishment of expertise and knowledge by an author or speaker, Douglass lends credibility to his writings regarding slavery because he experienced slavery. While any ex-slave could write a credible story about slavery, Frederick Douglass was anything other than an...