Frederick Douglass`s "Escape From Slavery": Rhetorical Analysis

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In the excerpt, Frederick Douglass describes his feelings about how he escaped slavery by running away to New York in 1838. At the time, slavery still existed in the states, more so in the Southern states than the Northern states. This resulted in Douglass escaping to New York. Slaves who were caught after escape would be brought back to the life they were living. Douglass targets this piece of writing towards people who don’t understand the pains of being a fugitive slave who is, primarily speaking, the common white people at the time. By describing his escape to New York through the violent motif of a hunter and prey and run-on sentences that speed up pacing, Douglass illustrates the disparity and loneliness of his situation to emphasize how one is never truly free from racial segregation.

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In the beginning, Douglass reminisces about his escape and the process he went through. He illustrates the hope and relief he felt from escaping slavery. He “felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions”. By utilizing the word “hungry”, he describes the desire of the slave owners to own slaves. In addition, it also adds to the motif of the hunter and prey. His previous slave owner was the hunter and him being the prey. The tenacity further exemplifies the fact that even though he has physically escaped the reigns of slavery, mentally, he still feels the confinements of how he thought back when he was still a slave.

Douglass then transitions from an optimistic perspective to a stark realization. He realizes that he knows no one in the city and cannot tell if they are good or bad. He describes how he “was afraid to speak to anyone for fear [...] as the ferocious beasts of the forest lie in wait for their prey”. Douglas describes how to regard the slave owners were willing to go through to own slaves and keep them by using the word “ferocious”. In addition, it also describes their merciless nature. By specifically mentioning the beast lying in waiting for the prey, he emphasizes the idea that although he is technically free from the grasps of his slave owners, he will never feel truly free. He will always be on edge and feel unsafe. Not everyone accepts him as a person because of his skin color and the resulting fear is expressed through the hunter motif in this section of the excerpt.

Lastly, he started rushing as he described the horrifying things slaves endured. He attempts to compare the life of a fugitive slave to something that would instill the same feelings in an individual. Douglass declares, “Let him be a fugitive slave in a strange land-- a land given up to be the hunting-ground [...] seized upon by his fellow-men, as the hideous crocodile seizes upon his prey!” The author uses the words “hunting”, “seized”, and “hideous” to create a feeling of constriction and fear which further emphasizes the feelings he felt like prey being hunted by the predator. This piece of evidence is also an example of the run-on sentences that Douglass used. In this instance, his use of run-on sentences causes the pace to quicken, therefore making the effect of being chased. Much like being chased by a predator or hunter of some sort, which relates to the motif of the hunter and the prey. He further adds that a “half-famished fugitive is only equaled by that with which the monsters of the deep swallow up the helpless fish upon which they subsist”. The author uses the word “famished” to describe the state he is in right now like a fugitive slave. The reason why he is only “half” famished is that he technically has everything he needs to survive around him, yet they are hard to get. This is also part of his run-on sentence. This whole paragraph, in general, was one or two sentences, which are both very long. Once again, this increases the pacing and reflects the chase between a hunter and their prey.

Douglass created this piece of writing to convey the unfairness and the hardships of one who is segregated to other people who don’t understand that pain. Racial segregation and the bounds of it extend further than the physical implications. Though one may be physically free, some stereotypes stay and harm people.  

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